Sunday, December 23, 2012

Expendables 2: What's the point in that?

I just finished watching Expendables 2.  Great movie.  Better than the first, I'd say.  Although to really appreciate it I think you would have to have watched every notable action movie from the 80s.

I know people who think movies like this are cliche and stupid.  Maybe.  ...maybe... but Stallone had one line in Expendables 2 that I think really brought home why the 80s action movies were so great, and why action movies since haven't really captured the same feeling, and, in fact, why apparently it takes action movie stars from the 80s to bring it back again:
Why is it the one of us who wants to live the most, who deserves to live the most, dies, and the ones that don't deserve to live keep on living?  What's the message in that?
I don't know if this was an intentional dig at modern action movies or not, but that's largely how I took it.  In particular, it's why I loved the old action movies and why I really haven't enjoyed anything by Tarantino or movies like No Country for Old Men.

I believe the argument for those movies would be that real life isn't pretty, good guys don't always win and nobody likes cliche bullshit from the 80s.  They want it to be real and gritty with stories that have a deeper tale and

Hey, you know what, fuck you.

I get real and gritty every time I turn on the news.  Bad guys win all the damn time.  Bringing them to justice is a long and arduous task with no clear winners.

People may think that the 80s movies were just about violent killing with shallow storylines and that people like Tarantino just improved on the genre by giving them a fancier spin.  After all, his movies have plenty of blood and gore and that's what it was always about, right?

No.  That wasn't what it was about.

Violent 80s movies were about the good guys winning and the bad guys getting what was coming to them.  I'll grant that they are cheesy and cliche.  But it's a good cliche.  It's a cliche where a guy goes out, maybe rapes, maybe robs, maybe murders and then, later, gets shot in the face with a large gun.  Karma.  Usually delivered by Stallone, Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis, to name a few.  In real life, someone commits a terrible crime and maybe next year there will be closure on it.  Maybe there will never be closure.  In an 80s action film, closure comes in the last 15 minutes of the film, guaranteed.  Maybe it's not right, per se, that the bad who who murdered all those people ends up getting a chain around the neck and a knife in the chest.  Maybe he should have been brought before justice and put on trial and sent to serve his time in a prison until he could perhaps qualify for probation after years of good behavior, but what he gets is closure.

Again with the Pratchett paraphrasing -- people have to engage in the act of make-believe.  We believe in fantasies like justice and mercy and duty and "that sort of thing".  Oh, you don't think those are fantasy, just the same as elves and dwarves and Stallone always winning?  Then show me a single particle of justice.  What is the molecular makeup of mercy?  When will the Large Hadron Collider detect duty?  These are fantasy concepts.

We invented them because we believe in them.  The universe didn't provide them to us so we had to make them up ourselves.

80s action movies were never about violence, per se.  They were about karma.  They were about good guys winning and bad guys losing.  That may not be reality, but it's something I would prefer to believe in, even if it's not true, and I like watching movies where the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose.  Call me a dreamer.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Of lies, Lies, truth and Truth

This is something I picked up by reading too much Terry Pratchett: capitalizing things once they pass some certain threshold of significance. You might tell a bum that you have no change on you and that would be a lie. You might somehow end up convincing the bum and the nearest 20 people to give you $20 each and that would be a Lie. Once you step it up to a grand level, you can capitalize it.

I have known some Liars in my time. Actually, I used to be one, back in my maladjusted teenage years. I was quite proud of my ability to generate entirely plausible statements on the fly, particularly to get me out of something. I wouldn't say I was a liar -- that just implies some petty level of ability. I was a Liar. I was good at it.

And then, one day, someone did something terribly nice for me and I wanted to tell them with all available sincerity what a nice person they were. But shallow compliments are the bread and butter of the liar (and the Liar). So I got to thinking: how does one create a statement which comes across as definitely not a lie? How can truth ever beat lies?

I concluded that the problem with Lies is that they cannot be Explained.

If you want to have a Truth, you just have to take a basic truth and explain it.

Let's take a very simple example:
"I like your hair."

This could be a lie or a truth. We can't tell. Maybe it's the opening line of the common Beer Bellied Douchebag or maybe it was a simple statement of fact.

If you want it to be more of a Truth, then you'll want to Explain it:
"I like your hair. It's very chic style I understand is popular in Europe; and you've got the right color and thickness to pull it off. It's also actually a classic American style, in the manner of Bettie Page and I've always thought it stood out as a good, natural style. You stand out with it and it looks great on you."

That is more of a Truth. Lies, even capitalized ones, have a hard time standing up to scrutiny because there is no ready explanation to back them up. Lying and saying I like your hair is easy but I might be in a pinch if you ask me what, in particular, I like about it. Now I'm going to have to stumble for some reasoning and it is a good Liar indeed who can do that on the fly.

So Truth can beat Lies with the aid of sufficient Explanation.

Ponder that if you ever want to tell someone something and be certain that they know you mean it. Don't just say it. Explain it. You may well learn something about yourself as well. It's always good to find the roots of our own truths -- the Liar can never really know himself because he must necessarily shift and change to suit the latest batch of Lies, but an honest person can always dig for a bit more explanation. Truths from the heart have deep reasons with long histories. (If I really wanted to tell you the full reason for why I like your hair, I would have to start with something like, "I was born in North Carolina..." It would be a very long explanation. Lies are short lived things but Truth has its roots in beginning of the universe.)