Sunday, January 16, 2011

Enter the void: 8 notes on The Green Hornet

1) Watching The Green Hornet was like sitting in an expansive tent and noting the wind blow through a large hole in the back of the canvas. The nihilistic emptiness of the entire enterprise has one discernable purpose: Columbia Pictures desires a profit.

2) As a newspaper baron's spoiled son Britt Reid, Seth Rogen revels in immature buffoonery. He's an entitled boorish slob. His initial motto: "Never stop the party!" His method of seduction consists of making out with women inside his father's fancy cars (moving from car to car in frenetic fast motion). He happens upon his career as a "hero" when he tells Kato "Let's go get ourselves some goddamned justice!" He's a 29 year old man acting like a 12 year old in the hopes of appealing to a predominantly 16 year old male audience. His character's father says "Trying doesn't matter when you always fail," a rather apt line for the entire movie.

3) Why is Cameron Diaz (as Lenore Chase) involved? She is ten years older than Seth Rogen, so his character makes a crack about how Lenore Chase is perhaps more suitable for Cocoon, but he lusts for her anyway, and she threatens him with a sexual harassment suit (the one semi-realistic scene in the film). Knight and Day also showed how Diaz is having difficulty moving beyond the ditzier Tweetie Bird persona of her twenties (now that she's nearly 40). Here, her character, Lenore Chase, is, by the way, very intelligent, so the casting psychodynamics are confusing. Did the filmmakers mean for her to play den mother for Britt's arrested development?

4) Why is the storyline chiefly concerned with a newspaper The Daily Sentinel, run by Britt's dad (a pained-looking Tom Wilkinson)? I noticed that the 1930's children's radio show version of The Green Hornet featured a newspaper publisher hero, but this new version only makes one reference to the contemporary news situation, and that's when Britt decides to place some incriminating information about an evil district attorney on the Internet. Otherwise, this Sentinel is huge, loaded with employees, and director Michel Gondry even includes a Citizen Kane reference when everyone on one floor of the Sentinel building stands up when Britt arrives to take over his father's business. The newspaper world depicted in this film might have come from the 1950s.

5) At one point, the villain Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) asks a fellow villain, "You truly don't think I'm scary?" Chudnofsky is so insecure about his evil status, he changes his name to Reign of Bloodnofsky and affects a red outfit with a gas mask that somehow corresponds to the Green Hornet's get-up. After Waltz's triumph in Inglourious Basterds, this jokey meta-super-villain debasement is very sad.

6) Seth Rogen, as co-writer of The Green Hornet, keeps including dialogue that indicates how we're supposed to react to what's on screen. At one point, he says "I'm feeling conflicting emotions, Kato." At another time, he says, "These guys are good." Situations are either "Incredibly dangerous" or "really very intense." Kato is a "complex man." All of these verbal cues make the movie gratingly self-aggrandizing. A gang fight becomes, for Britt, "the greatest moment of my entire life!" One can assume the audience is supposed to feel the same way.

7) And what of Kato (Jay Chou)? Proficient in making fancy coffee and equipping muscle cars with weaponry, Kato can also fight by slowing down time in order to note in infra-red the different weapons of various bad guys menacing him simultaneously. Otherwise, his role still carries a hint of the casual racism of the old comics that birthed him (Britt wants to keep him as his "sidekick," not his partner. He calls him "Little Stinger" and other derogatory names). My friend Dr. K., a comics scholar, told me recently that he found it difficult to find a comic from the Golden Age that doesn't include some racist caricature. Kato could, perhaps, be a self-possessed character except for one glaring problem: he befriends Britt, thus becoming something of a hanger-on, a toady, and a stooge for rich swine. In real life, Kato wouldn't suffer Britt's presence.

8) In the frenetic, endless climax (spoiler alert), Kato and Britt lead the bad guys on one last long chase back to a large building that gets demolished in the firefight. Their 1965 Chrysler Imperial, the Black Beauty, suffers much wear and tear. Britt comes to terms with his dead tyrannical father, but it's all a bunch of concussively futile motion that attempts, and fails, to mask the void.

9 comments:

Craig said...

So you liked it then?

FilmDr said...

I liked it when the dog throws the ball at the viewer to establish that one is watching 3D. Not much after that, though.

Anthony said...

Great blog here. And here are some 8 notes on your 8 notes.

1. Columbia Pictures (and a lot of other studios) always desire a profit.

2. Isn't it _refreshing_ that this superhero movie actually identifies that adolescent longing inherent in all Let's Fight Evil! films? Isn't the first shot of a small boy playing with his masked sidekick action figure out the window of his chauffeured car a perfect image for the unattainable power young boys and teens (this target audience) long after when they read comics, see these films?

3. We go to superhero movies for realistic (or semi-realistic) moments? Cameron Diaz acted like a person in the midst of a lot of buffoonery: she wants a job, cares about her field, and is never dissected, dime-store-Freud-style, aka, we never learn about her past and why she's hesitant to talk about it.

4. Every moment of the film centres in some way around the affluence of big media and the potential for corruption. It was never just something tossed in, like a sushi flash drive. Is this one of the few (or only) Hollywood movies to admit that "the Internet is killing us"?

5. Chudnovsky's evil was as frightening as the Hornet/Kato's crime fighting was noble. That's a pretty good pairing.

6. Adolescence. It's about adolescence. Were Rogen's character somehow smarter, somehow more tactful and observant, somehow deep, this would be a different movie. And by different, I mean, the same superhero movie we've seen dozens of times in the last decade or so.

7. Kato nearly kills his boss. And does all the heavy lifting. And takes zero flack. If anyone is competent and puts the super in superhero, it's Kato. I think that was obvious to everyone in my theatre, including the self-referencing Rogen. Like you said, he's one to point heavily at the obvious: it's pretty clear that Kato is brilliant and Rogen a dope. Given that the whole series originates from this unequal racist-pairing, the film addressed it fairly and squarely: Rogen's slacker attitude, Jewish self-doubt and neurosis paired with Kato's stereotypical Asian work ethic and seemingly subservient status.

The premise (Asian man aids White man) is suspicious, I agree, but the movie ... did we watch the same movie?

8. That's all very writerly, but what void? I'm not saying Green Hornet is a classic or is brilliant ... but of all the product Hollywood dishes out, why tear this to shreds?

I walked out not feeling like a moron or spoken down to or politically rankled. Isn't that something special?

That all said, I really enjoy your blog. I really do.

I tried to keep that civil.

FilmDr said...

Anthony,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I learned from Dr. K that many of his peers liked the movie, and it is a pleasure to get your perspective. Some thoughts in reply:

Yes, studios always desire a profit, but most movies disguise that somehow. The Green Hornet, diddling around in development for so long, struck me as particularly crass because the 1960s TV show crudely ripped off both Batman (with the Bruce Wayne-like wealth, the tricked out car, the camouflaged entrance for the car, etc.) and the Spirit (the fedoras and the eye mask). I learned from Dr. K that the Green Hornet show was a spin-off from the Batman show, with Robin supposed to beat up Bruce Lee, but Bruce Lee said no. So, when a property seems very cliched, the profit-motive seems more obvious. Rogen apparently threw out earlier script attempts and replaced it with a new one that appears to emphasize how he's been spoiled with success as of late.

The first shot of the boy and the superhero doll reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite.

Yes, Cameron Diaz does have an oddly respectable role, but that doesn't make up for Rogen's mindlessness. I confess that I get very tired of movies that end up glorifying fools and rewarding them for things they don't deserve. It all strikes me as wish-fulfillment fantasy. I prefer Kick Ass when it comes to more original comic book movies.

While you make some good points, I have particular problems with point 4, because the movie scarcely brings up the internet at all. It's all about newspapers, which shows that the filmmakers were too lazy to update the material that they drew from.

You found Chudnofsky's gas mask and insecure attempts to make his own super-villain identity frightening, really?

Anthony said...

Maybe I said it strangely: Hornet/Kato were not noble at all, just fanboys running amuck. A non-frightening gas-mask wearing Waltz matched that.

The whole development hell of it, yeah, smells a lot like "let's just make a profit, and soon!" so this is another example of Hollywood strikes again... We can't punish a movie for its bad parents.

I wonder if the movie would've been loved (or even liked) had its hero not been such a goof. Like: if he were somehow serious and stock-noble. Then again: something like the latest Batman type (Bale) or the last Superman movie had an air of sanctimony to it, no? A suggestion of holier-than.

Like you say: the wish-fulfillment fantasy is at play here. Fat screw-up tackles bullies successfully and is hella cool! But again: it's there in every superhero movie. Or most. I'm just glad this one was upfront about it.

It made me feel less talked down to.

Whether or not the media/internet stuff was huge, it was there. It did, Rogen's father's media empire, allow him his gadgets; it did, make him less than just a street vigilante, a la Kick Ass, it did change the moral conflict of the story from one of self-assertion (rich boy seeks thrill ride as crime-fighter) to self-defence or -preservation (defending a legacy, maintaining an ethical stand). Again: not huge, not done with aplomb, but unavoidably an aspect of the film itself.

FilmDr said...

I agree that the movie might have had more potential if the hero was not such a goof. As it is, he's spoiled in much the same way the studio spoiled the filmmakers, by providing lots of money and time to make something in which there is really nothing at stake--a lot of flat screen TVs in the mise-en-scene to add motion in the background, fancy toys, father issues, expensive sets for offhand jokes much as one finds in the Iron Man franchise. The movie reminds me of MacGruber or Land of the Lost. Someone hopes the irony will work, but it just emphasizes the inanity of the whole enterprise.

You mentioned how the movie is about adolescence, but Rogen is now 29, so it's really about delayed adolescence, yet another movie celebrating how young men do not grow up. Meanwhile, Mattie is fully competent at 14 years of age in True Grit. I question the endless Adam Sandlerification of the American caucasian male who assumes some privilege for being useless. It strikes me as a dangerous myth to spread around.

Nic said...

The Green Hornet has never really interested me, the superhero genre is kind of hit-and-miss for me. Chris Nolan is working on his new Batman adventure, so i think i'll just wait for that. AND it won't need the novelty of 3D. Seth Rogen's star is on the rise, so it may be a good vehicle for him :)

Anthony said...

Yeah. Arrested development. The best show that nobody watched. Same idea here: Rogen IS his audience, his market audience, I guess.

At least that's direct, eh? I mean: who on Earth watches Batman and is pretty well like Batman?

My whole feeling about the film revolves around the fact that it's on that dumbed down, goofy level the audience is most able to relate to, most like. Again: nobody really operates like Batman does in this hemisphere, this day/age.

But then again: we're back to wish fulfillment. Which is maybe why all superhero movie can be great entertainments, but not maybe other things?

Is there a great superhero movie? Dark Knight does a weird anti-wish fulfillment thing that sort of gets off on being brooding and full of richly orchestrated despair. Maybe some film I'm not old enough to know?

flixchatter said...

I feel the same way about Christoph's casting in Green Hornet. What is it with Hollywood that they always have to cast a celebrated 'breakout' performer (though Christoph have been in a lot of movies in his home country) in a superhero movie? And a lame one at that? :(