Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shoot ‘Em Up

Shoot ‘Em Up is an awful movie, whose only vague virtue – very vague – is that Clive Owen parodies his self-serious role in Children of Men as a protector of a child. But Shoot ‘Em Up reminded me of an important thing.

I have to stop being lazy. Like many people, especially comic book fans, I have been known to review things by simply listing off thing I feel are self-evidently awesome. Ninja Man-Bats, Monkeys and Robots, Giant Apes, lesbian assassins, Russian bears with Jet Packs. But you can see, watching Shoot Em Up, that this is exactly how these guys imagined their own project. Clive Owen delivers a baby while shooting a million gunmen with crazy acrobatics – flipping over a table to use it as a shield, then, when it lands on the toolkit that was once on the table, using it as the ramp it has now become, for example. The baby’s umbilical cord is severed with a gun blast. Clive Owen has sex with Monica Belluchi, and fends off a second host of gunmen while continuing to have sex with her in various positions. There is a gun with a thumb-print safety on one of the bad guys, but our hero figures out how to use it by cutting the guy’s hand off and bringing it with him. Bullets are fired with strings and carrots, and at one point, no gun at all. There is a sky-diving shootout where someone lands on helicopter blades. I have to stop using one of my favourite Blake lines in my reviews – “Exuberance is Beauty.” Because Shoot ‘Em Up is exuberant, I suppose, but it is still awful.

Shoot ‘Em Up reminds us that it is all in the execution. Matt Fraction may say of Iron Fist “Kung-Fu billionaire – how is this not on issue 600 by now?” but that is false modesty. The book is not good because it features a Kung-Fu billionaire. The Kung Fu billionaire seems like something inevitably awesome because Matt Fraction and company are writing the thing. Exuberance is not beauty. Flawless execution is beauty – and will make it look like it is just the ideas that sell themselves.

23 comments:

Mikey said...

Geoff - couldn't agree more regarding this movie, which contained a number of things I was aware that I SHOULD love but found myself being left completely cold by, and in fact really annoyed. Perhaps it marks my own personal saturation point with "this kind of thing." But there may be more to it than that. The list of things that are awesome, particularly when it comes to film, is the domain of the reviewer. They pull these things out as concepts within the film. They are not necessarily intended by the filmmakers to be regarded or consumed as such. Shoot Em Up, as you point out, views like someone has twigged to this and gone about making their movie with this in mind. For the purpose of rendering it reviewer proof. This is, of course, cynical - whereas I've always associated exuberance with innocence and positivity.

I see the greater question this raises re your (and any) blog - the risk that, in revelling in things that are nominally and on paper awesome, one forgets to consider if something is, you know, good. Distracted for a moment by a sort of not very sleight sleight of hand.

In some cases I think this exuberance (or, rather, something lesser creators may mistake for exuberance) is OK and deserved, even when it doesn't mask good storytelling or something genuinely interesting going on under the surface. However, Shoot Em Up not only fails to do this but also comes across as somehow quite mean (as well as flat and, funnily enough, boring).

Some blogs do exuberance well, just as some comics, films, musics do. I'm partial to Chris Sims over at ISB, for instance, in whose writing you can sense lies a critical engagement with the spirit and thinking about the story of the piece under the enjoyable bombast. And I wouldn't worry - when you make such statements in your brief reviews I think that most of us readers are aware that there must be at least something to merit praise as well as the things you list. A bear with a jetpack gets you pretty far, but it doesn't get you a free pass.

If something was (faux-)exuberant but awful, like Shoot Em Up, which is a bad film, not a good bad film, I'd expect to hear no less from you. The happy fact is is that Fraction (and why can't I think of any other examples? Kirby's Fourth World, perhaps. Nextwave) delivers a constant chain of charming and well-spirited idea clusters AND a well-crafted story AND raises interesting questions about genre, influence etc.

I forget what my point was. Not to worry.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I don't know if I should ask this, since I haven't seen the movie (yet. It's near the top of my Netflix queue), but WHY is the movie so awful? Is it a lack of depth? Good ideas but bad execution? I get that you (Geoff and Mikey) didn't like it, but I don't really understand what you don't like about it.

I'm still planning to watch it because I love that sort of ridiculousness, even if it's ultimately pretty shallow. I love silly kung fu movies that have terrible plots but enjoyable fight scenes (and sometimes even bad fight scenes, which can make the movie good-bad). This movie looks like it's full of that sort of silliness, and nothing you talk about here seems to indicate otherwise. So why is it so bad? Is it edited so you can't follow the action and only have the idea of cool stuff going on (that's why I haven't watched Crank, which I hear is similar, but edited in such a frenetic style that it causes headaches)? I dunno, I think I'm just going to have to see the damn thing so I can add my own opinion. There's a novel idea.

Matthew J. Brady said...

By the way, I should add that I agree with Geoff about the fact that execution can bring this sort of thing to a whole new level. Matt Fraction takes these crazy ideas and writes great stories, but he builds a foundation of good characters and heartfelt relationships, really adding a lot of depth to what might seem at first to be just flashy surface.

That said, I don't expect Shoot Em Up to be on that same level, and most of those martial arts (or samurai, or yakuza, or whatever) movies that I was talking about don't have much more than the surface. So, is the reason the movie is bad because it's nothing more than a cool skin with no heart, or is there more to it? Would I like it on the same level as a corny Jackie Chan movie, or does it fail in that respect as well? I guess that's my real question. And I probably won't know the answer until I watch the damn thing. Soon.

Mikey said...

Matt: I'd like to think on this but first reaction - It's not the lack of depth, as such. Die Hard 4 is great though it was lacking depth. Hell, it confounded depth in amazing ways. But that's another discussion I'd like to have some time.

I'd make a distinction between this and, say, early Jackie Chan movies, which are at least crafted things that are made in the right spirit. Yakuza/gangster movies are generally well-made and self-assured in their iconography and the fact that they are very deliberately making something cool, but some of them (my knowledge is very limited) surely ask questions of genre, plot mechanics, character beats, almost by virtue of their very existence. It's why a Miike can come along and watch it all smash together so well. Also, by virtue of their time, place, fetishisation, the hindsight of being able to write grand arcs of the history of cinema etc., these movies have passed into a different context, and are difficult to compare to Shoot Em Up. Xena Warrior Princess would be a more apt comparison.

I enjoy mindless action and bad movies (and I mean properly bad ones – I own more Roddy Piper movies than is healthy). But, with regards to Shoot Em Up I can't help but keep coming back to this idea of 'craft' which is interesting. And this notion of the 'spirit' of the thing, which I think is too ethereal.

In terms of the graspable for now then. It's not that much of the action was clunky and clearly done on the cheap. It's that this was done while attempting to present a veneer of slickness that only serves to reveal that very thing. It's the desperate, needy striving. It's not that the dialogue was awful – nor that it was intentionally so (such postmodern devices are no longer surprising or interesting). Rather it's that Clive Owen cannot even deliver awful dialogue that is intended to be awful without sounding....awful. Hell, sometimes Clive Owen can't even walk convincingly (and I liked him in Children of Men). It's not that Giamatti was gratuitous and over the top (he was kind of OK). It's that he clearly couldn't decide how to play it and ended up a bit embarrassing honestly. Having said that, I think Giamatti's character was quite fascinating.

I'd be curious if you do see the difference between this and the other types of films you mention when you do see it, as that's pretty much what I was feeling before I watched it as well.

Geoff, I know you're original post wasn't really about Shoot Em Up, but rather your own blogging. Regarding this, there's something in my original comment that I think needs clarifying, but I've gone on long enough and it'll keep.

Geoff Klock said...

Mikey -- thanks.

Matt -- I think part of why I don't say why I don't like it is i am not 100% sure. It is dreadfully boring and mean, and I think it is just the cynicism that makes it awful, as if it is saying "This is what you want to see, isn't it? Moron. Fine. Here it is. Thanks for your money. Fuck off." Like a strip club where girls take off their clothes, but don't seem to particularly care about it one way or the other.

Compare it to Kill Bill for a moment. Shoot em Up tries to "give me what I want" (kinetic over the top action). But the truth is, in a paradox, I don't want what I want -- I want what I don't know I want. I want to be surprised. If you had asked me what I wanted at the end of Kill Bill I would have said a huge fight scene. But I was wrong. Tarantino showed me that I really wanted something much quieter, a meeting between old friends. Shoot Em Up could not imagine surprising me in that way, because it considers me too stupid to have my mind changed, or be capable of responding to anything other than my often unimaginative desires.

You know what. Thanks for asking. THAT is why the movie was awful.

I love blogging.

Chad Nevett said...

Saw this on the weekend and couldn't agree more. It did seem like a litany of scenes and events that should make the audience happy, but they just come off as lame and kind of stupid. It almost seemed like a parody of modern hyper-kintetic action flicks, but not quite. I can't explain why I have that feeling, like the writer/director's intentions were more serious, more "let's give the audience everything they want" and then because it is so cliched-ridden, it seems like bad parody.

What I think I'd have a hard time articulating exactly is why I liked Crank, but didn't like this since there are so many similarities between the two.

Jason Powell said...

Good show, Geoff. This has been a pet peeve of mine for a while -- the whole "It's got a bear with jet pack. A BEAR WITH A JET PACK." style of reviewing. I was even going to blog about this myself at one point, but it occurred to me that someone -- you, for instance -- might read it and think I was getting at them in particular, rather than the phenomenon in general.

My problem with is that I often times find myself reading that sort of sentence and saying, "Huh. Apparently bears in jet-packs are intrinsically awesome. I must've missed a meeting, 'cause I didn't know that." Reading that type of review makes me feel like I'm missing the boat, out of the loop, the last one to the party, etc. And then I feel sullen and irritated for the rest of the day.

Y'know, I finally finished Roger McKee's story not long ago, and he's got a great bit that is reminiscent a bit of how you describe the flaws in "Shoot 'Em Up." He talks about a common scenario in which a writer has come with some cool ideas for scenes, and so he strings them together in a kind of weak story, and inevitably the result is a movie where people go, "Well, I liked that scene, and that other scene, but ... I don't know, it wasn't very good." Whereas the technique that tends to work better for writers is if they come up with the solid story first, and then afterward they think hard about each scene and how to make it cool. The result, so says McKee, is always a better script.

Marc Caputo said...

Now this is why I hated both of the "Grindhouse" films and moreover, why I felt like the Emperor and the New Clothes when all of you were raving about it.

First of all, I'm not old enough to remember if there even was a "grindhouse" period in film or if it was just a convenient name applied in retrospect. I love that Rodriguez, in most of his movies and Tarantino, in "Kill Bill", applied aspects and elements of that "period" into their filmmaking. With this "Grindhouse", I was excited to see it, never did in the theaters and then suffered through it on video over the holidays. Both movies, Tarantino's in particular, just lay there. It was like a museum piece - "this is what that type of movies was like, kids!" and I've come to expect more than that from both of them. I've come to expect more recombinant storytelling and I didn't get it.

Now, I knew that the end of "Kill Bill 2" was going to be a whisper, not a scream. That was the only way to end the film, but Tarantino's genius lies in how he brings us to that point, almost taunting us, "Is he going to go straight or 'Tarantino' on us?" Because he's been 'Tarantino' for so long, 'Tarantino" at that point, might mean going the other way. Narratively, the story had to end that way and it was good to see him do that. "KB 1" had a huge battle at the end and that would have been repeating himself. Also, the end of "KB 2" shows a deft hand with sentimentality, a la "Jackie Brown".

Marc Caputo said...

When it comes to "Shoot 'Em Up", I feel that this is the type of movie where you're going to get EXACTLY what it shows you in the trailer, and one really has no excuse for being disappointed when there's nothing extra. I know this going in and I'm only going to go see it/rent it if that's exactly what I'm looking for and nothing more. Now, something like "No Country for Old Men", promises me something more. A basic story or genre setup, with narrative or stylistic twists that I've come to expect from them. Look at any of their movies (but not "Intolerable Cruelty" or "The Ladykillers") and they've always paid off in spades. I don't know the name of the guy who directed "SEU" and it's fair to say he's not going to have a Coen/Tarantino-like career, but he doesn't have to. If he delivers on what he promises, I'll enjoy it.

Geoff Klock said...

Marc -- Death Proof cannot be a "museum piece." It starts like a Grindhouse film and then becomes something else. If it is like a museum piece it is like that surrealist thing where whoever painted mustache on the Mona Lisa -- and everyone thought they were in for a night of Renaissance painting. As for Shoot Em Up I did not expect anything "extra" from the film. I expected exactly what was promised by the tongue in cheek title -- empty but fun gunfights. I got the empty gunfights but the film failed on the fun.

Erin said...

i took this movie to be an organizational mistake. the whole thing looked like a dvd resume for a cinematographer gig (not sure: would that be the job? maybe storyboarder) or perhaps a mock-up of an energy drink commercial. The images are great and as someone who has trouble thinking in moving pictures myself i totally respect people who can do choreography. it ain't easy. it's just not a movie.


my top three complaints are:

- the concept of people ingesting breast milk makes me sick. sex + food is bad enough but then you throw maternity in there and ick gets all spiritual on my ass.

- you have monica belluci in your movie and you dress her like that? seriously? first effing matrix and now this: i don't fricking understand it.

- i have had about as much as i can take of the switch from blue filter to anything else signifying a giant change in tone/moral platform. it's specious enough to throw the whole 'screw you audience, you like action movies cause you're BAAAD,' thing at the end but to then be like, oooh, warm colors suddenly, it's all ok now: no no no!

Arg. Who did that first?

Erin said...

bellucci. and _the_ ick.

Voice Of The Eagle said...

"that surrealist thing where whoever painted mustache on the Mona Lisa"

Marcel Duchamp, and he was a Dadaist, not a Surrealist.

(They made me learn this crap in high school)

neilshyminsky said...

"Shoot ‘Em Up is exuberant, I suppose, but it is still awful."

This is how I feel about Frank Miller's All-Star Batman. :)

Matthew J. Brady said...

Holy crap, I was just bitching about missing some good posts, and look at the cool discussion I've started! Now I really have to see this movie and see where I stand about it.

Good clarifications by all, and it's interesting to compare this to other movies. Geoff said the attitude is This is what you want to see, isn't it? Moron. Fine. Here it is. Thanks for your money. Fuck off." Which sounds a lot like All Star Batman and Robin, but that's exactly what people seem to praise that comic for. Huh. Geoff also mentions Kill Bill, and I think that (and Death Proof) are examples of the Matt Fraction style of writing, with some excellent genre trappings built on a heartfelt, character-based foundation.

Actually, SMU sounds a lot like the other half of Grindhouse, Planet Terror (and probably some other Robert Rodriguez movies, like From Dusk Till Dawn or Desperado). Which might be why Planet Terror fell a little flat for me; it was fun, but there wasn't much to it. I guess that's kind of what I'm looking for in SMU. We'll see if I end up disappointed.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Mikey: I probably should have left gangster/yakuza/samurai movies out of it; they usually have more "structure" than the kind of silly action movies I'm talking about, and are built on an actual story rather than just a series of cool scenes.

Troy Wilson said...

"Geoff said the attitude is 'This is what you want to see, isn't it? Moron. Fine. Here it is. Thanks for your money. Fuck off.' Which sounds a lot like All Star Batman and Robin, but that's exactly what people seem to praise that comic for. Huh."

All Star isn't what fans want to see. It's what Miller wants to see. Fans weren't clamoring for the "goddamn Batman." Fans weren't clamoring for Grayson's picture to appear on milk cartons before he even stepped out of the goddamn Batmobile. Fans weren't clamoring for any number of exuberant absurdities bursting from All Star's pages(except maybe the close-up of Vicky's ass). Fans were clamoring for the Batman from Dark Knight Returns or Year One. But Miller's moved on and he's not looking back. He's giving some of us what we didn't know we wanted. And he's giving the rest of you what you didn't know you didn't want.

Madd_Hadder said...

I absolutely loved Shoot Em up. I knew what I was getting myself into and I enjoyed the ride. I thought it was hilarious and perfectly over the top. I loved Paul Giamatti. It was nice to see him loosen up. I know almost everyone hated the movie and I can understand perfectly well why that is, but I have seen it 3 times now and it just keeps getting more and more fun for me.

Streebo said...

When I saw the trailer to Shoot 'Em Up, I knew that was as close as I ever wanted to get to that film. The director is Michael Davis - who was responsible for one of my favorite exuberantly beautiful bad horror comedies - Monster Man. Davis' career has found him waiting around for someone to hand him two million dollars and a movie title. In the finest Corman-esque tradition, Davis, will take an assignment from producers to make a film based on an idea for a title and a vague notion of the corresponding genre. This film looks like it was handed down with a producorial mandate to make "something that the cool kids will like." This is exactly when exuberance is not beautiful - because in many ways it is a false exuberance. I'm oblivious to what Blake may have termed that. To liken it to Geoff's stripper analogy, it is like going to a strip club only to find that all the girls are mannequins.

You want naked women, right kid? Well, here they are!

. . . But they're plastic?

Shoot 'Em Up seems to have all the markings of a producer that is trying to please an audience that he believes consists entirely of idiots. I could be mistaken as I am only making an assumption based on viewing the trailer and not the film itself. But this film feels like the producer kept walking on the set and saying “you know what kids like don't you? Gun fights! And lots of them. They want big crazy gunfights – with wise guys swinging from the chandelier. Do something like this John Woo guy. He's from the Orient so no one even knows who he is. And out some sex in there too. Better yet, let's have a gunfight while he's having sex!”

Perhaps Davis just got in over his head and lost his way through the film, but to me, it looks like something that was spawned from disingenuity from the very start.

Streebo said...

Marc: I can respect your not liking Planet Terror and Death Proof, and I don't want to be all "quarter in the jar" here - but I would like to respectfully mention that the theatrical version of Grindhouse featured different cuts of both Planet Terror and Death Proof - as well as the connecting trailers in-between. Viewing Grindhouse was a completely different experience from viewing Planet Terror and Death Proof on DVD. Aside from the missing trailers, Planet Terror is basically the same - but Death Proof was altered almost drastically. The extended cut of Death Proof plays much closer to a slasher film for the opening three-quarters of the film - while the theatrical cut had these darker elements excised. I'm not saying that you would have enjoyed the films in the theater as a unit as opposed to seeing them separately on DVD - but who knows? I have a friend of a friend that owns a bootleg of the theatrical cut of Grindhouse if anyone wants to see it.

RE: Ninja-Manbats.

Now just because Shoot 'Em Up seems to be a work that lacks artistic integrity in my view - that does not automatically make all things exuberant suddenly turn to dross in the light of day. The deciding factor in most instances seems to be aesthetic relativism as we all can't be fans of gorillas with jet-packs and ninja-manbats. Some ideas will just excite some of us on all wavelengths - while leaving others cold. Ideas can be overused or simply used poorly - but when these joyously unrestrained ideas are used to shift the current tonal paradigm of a genre of art - then the quality and value of the work becomes more self-evident. Gorillas with Jet packs are fun the first time around - but six or seven times later and it becomes boring and predictable.

Ninja Manbats on the other hand - is something else entirely. How can anyone not like Ninja Manbats?

Marc Caputo said...

Streebo: I fully realize that part of my problem with "Grindhouse" is not having seen it in the theaters (or in the individual movies' original cuts) - but it shouldn't be my problem that it's my problem, if you can follow that. Prior to "Pulp Fiction" coming out theatrically in 1994, a NYC theater showed "Reservoir Dogs" with the only trailer for "PF". I had only seen "Dogs" on video. The experience was better. When I saw PF, it was opening night with one of the 5 best audiences I've ever sat with. I've since seen it 10 more times theatrically and God knows how many on video, and the movie loses not one ounce, even when I saw it 5 years later with one of the dumbest audiences EVER. To me, Grindhouse goes down as a failure on all counts: "Planet Terror" died on the table - all money shots, no development of anything at all. "Death Proof" was worse, though - even if it was meant to be evocative of another era of moviemaking, what distracted me was that NONE of it was what I love about Tarantino and ALL of it was what lesser creators think is what makes Tarantino great - the use of profanity (which QT has elevated to Peckinpah-esque heights), the pop culture referencing, the slacker milieu, the "why talk about Kirby when I can mention Moebius?", etc. QT's genius lies in the same ability as, let's say, Beck's - to take element s of junk culture and recombine them to create not only something new, but to force you to revisit the source material and find something new about that as well.
"Death Proof" failed for me on those levels.

Scene said...

whooo, looks like this is one for the comments hall of fame...

i don't have the time now to read through all of these, but i do want to applaud the original post.

it's something that has bothered me for awhile.

Matthew J. Brady said...

Well, I just watched the movie, and I must say, I found it quite enjoyable. Not a great movie by any means, but the action was all so crazy and goofy, I was laughing my head off. I think it does equate to the dumb martial arts movies that I so enjoy; stylish, crazy, over-the-top action with a stupid story to hold things together. Decent performances help, like Paul Giamatti's scenery-chewing villain.

I was going to bring up this comparison earlier, but I never got around to it: a movie that seems similar to me is The Big Hit, a dumb late-90s picture in which Mark Wahlberg played a hitman who got involved with a kidnapping of a girl that turned out to be his boss's goddaughter. It was dumb, but the action was so over the top, it was obvious that the filmmakers didn't take themselves at all seriously. And again, Wahlberg's performance was pretty enjoyable and raised the movie up to the level of a fun comedy.

So I dunno, these are both probably examples of movies that I enjoy and maybe could watch with some like-minded friends, but that I wouldn't ever actually recommend as a "good movie". Maybe if I think about it, I'll be able to come up with other examples of that type of movie. Anybody else want to pitch in?