4 Secret Messages That Turn Bad Movies Into Genius Ones
It's easy to make fun of terrible movies, like shooting fish in a barrel owned by Adam Sandler. But sometimes, if you make the effort to look past the veneer of awfulness, a cinematic turd can secretly contain greatness. Like a hideous nerd girl in a '90s rom-com, some famously bad films become radically different once you remove their metaphorical glasses and ponytail to reveal to reveal hidden Prom Queen greatness. Such as how ...
Jurassic World Is All About How Blockbusters Used To Be So Much Better (Especially Spielberg's)
Despite making a boatload of money and spawning a sequel set in Wayne Manor for some ridiculous reason, Jurassic World is a lousy movie. Sure, it has some fun setpieces, but somehow a series that began with passionate arguments over scientific ethics devolved into the story of a dude who uses his fist to mime the act of dino boning.
Does the movie have some kind of hidden meaning? Yes and no. The story not-so-subtly makes meta overtures about how crappy it is compared to the first Jurassic Park, with one character straight up declaring that the "first park was legit." The dude is even wearing a T-shirt with the original logo.
But comparisons to the original run even deeper than the musings of a 30-something nerd in an Old Navy graphic tee. Namely, Jurassic World is about how modern blockbusters can't compare to the work of Steven Spielberg. As argued by Battleship Pretension's Tyler Smith, the Indominus Rex, Frankensteined from assorted dino DNA, represents the current state of blockbusters -- recycling stuff you've seen before and passing it off as an exciting new spectacle.
More specifically, in this movie, the Indominus embodies Jurassic World, a soulless cash-grab trying to improve on something that didn't need improving. We get multiple scenes of the Indominus symbolically murdering your childhood, its wake of destruction contrasting with specific moments of wonder from Jurassic Park.
We also get coded references to the original film in the heroine's character arc. Jurassic World's Claire starts out a businesswoman dressed all in white, not unlike John Hammond ...
... but after accepting that these animals shouldn't be commodified, she "sheds" that outfit, revealing a costume akin to that of Hammond's moral contrast, Ellie Sattler.
The movie is basically about battling corporate interests to save the soul of movie blockbusters, represented by the park, which is peppered with references to the king of blockbuster filmmaking, Steven Spielberg. When the kids find the ruins of the original park, they go full Indiana Jones.
We also get scenes of an army storming a beach a la Saving Private Ryan, and multiple allusions to Jaws, including battling raptors with oxygen tanks and a new aquatic dinosaur that pops out of water like that movie's iconic broken-down robot shark.
In the end, the Indominus is defeated by the original T-Rex, and the movie takes a moment to crap all over another failed attempt to best Spielberg. Remember the Spinosaurus from Jurassic Park III? No you don't, and neither did the T-Rex as she casually smashed through a Spinosaurus skeleton on her way to fight the Indominus, just as an added insult to subpar Jurassic Park movies.
The T-Rex and the raptors, the original 1993-era dinosaurs, brawl with the Indominus, but they can't quite take it down. Why? Because thematically, it's the original '70s blockbuster that needs to kill this monster, hence the dinosaur representing Jurassic World finally being killed by the Jaws-asaurus. As for the inexplicable scene wherein the stand-in for the movie Jaws eats that poor lady ... hey, maybe it's a metaphor for this creepy unsolved murder? (Probably not.)
The Wachowskis' Speed Racer Is A Masterpiece About The Commodification Of Art
After directing the Matrix trilogy, the Wachowskis could do whatever the hell they wanted, so of course they decided to go with a $120 million adaption of the Japanese animated series Speed Racer, a show no one had thought about in 30 years. The result was friggin' bonkers. The cinematic Speed Racer is a candy-colored phantasmagoria, like if a live-action movie and a cartoon both collided with a race car powered by mescaline.
While the movie bombed (crashed?) upon release ten years ago, today it's being embraced as an unappreciated gem. This isn't just because of its dazzling visual innovations, but also for its powerful central allegory. Speed Racer is about the commodification of art. Perhaps it's not surprising that after the Matrix movies were a runaway financial success, the Wachowskis' follow-up wrestles with the dilemma of selling your art to soulless corporate overlords.
Speed Racer (the guy, whose name is literally Speed Racer) has a passion for racing cars, which we know is a stand-in for art because his mom outright says that his racing is art, like "watching someone paint or make music." But with more people catching on fire.
Speed's journey very much feels like what these filmmakers may have gone through following their breakout hit. Notably, Speed is courted by a rich bigwig, not unlike a Hollywood executive, who promises him whatever he wants if he joins up with his racing team ... which in turn would mean sacrificing his independence. It's safe to assume that the Wachowskis received similar offers after they managed to make "hacker bondage cyber fantasy" of all things a profitable genre.
In rejecting the offer, Speed learns that all the races are rigged by the corporations. There is no real art, it was all just a ploy to sell stuff. But Speed persists. Not unlike the Wachowskis taking a big gamble by making a movie based on their favorite childhood TV show instead of a more familiar sci-fi action flick, Speed has to decide why he wants to race at all. In the end, he does it for his supportive family, and for the art of racing itself. And if he makes lots and lots of money and achieves international fame doing that, hey, nice bonus.
The big finale doesn't even find Speed battling a villain in the final stretch, as you might expect, but rather contemplating his own artistic drive while the finish line turns into a psychedelic vortex of success.
It's a personal movie about the drive to make art personal, not commercial. So perhaps it's fitting that it was a goddamn commercial disaster.
Scream 3 Was a Pre-#MeToo Story Of Hollywood Abuse ... Produced By Harvey Weinstein
The original Scream is still remembered fondly today. The third one, not so much. Scream 3 is a mess, hastily cobbled together weeks before shooting started after the original writer left. So few shits were given about this movie that Jay and Silent Bob show up 20 minutes in, to the enjoyment of absolutely no one.
Surprisingly, though, Scream 3 does offer an examination of the institutional abuse of women in Hollywood, and it was made at a time well before the #MeToo movement. The Scream gang discovers that our heroine Sidney Prescott's mother was once an actress. Through a little sleuthing, Courtney Cox and company find out that John Milton, the producer of Stab 3 (the in-universe Scream movie sequel), knew Sidney's mom, and invited her to his "parties." No bathrobe malfunctions or forced massages are mentioned, but come on.
Milton's defenses are very Weinstein-esque. It was the '70s, and women knew what they were doing -- being raped by studio executives with the hopes of landing parts.
Milton adds "nothing happened to her that she didn't invite," eliciting disgusted looks from the characters. According to Milton, that's simply how you play "the game" in Hollywood.
The extra meta-layer of all this is that Scream 3 was produced by Harvey Weinstein. Which makes one wonder if screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who was brought in by the Weinsteins, may have been sending a coded F-you to his boss, whose alleged crimes had yet to be made public.
That theme of women being abused in Hollywood runs throughout the entire movie, even in random comedic moments. In one of the movie's many WTF cameos, Carrie Fisher shows up as a woman who looks just like Carrie Fisher, but didn't get the part of Princess Leia because she wouldn't have sex with George Lucas.
The revelation that Sidney's mother was sexually traumatized even factors into the reveal of the killer. It turns out (SPOILERS for an 18-year-old slasher movie) Sidney has a half-brother, the result of one of Milton's "parties."
In fact, the movie retcons the story so that Sidney's brother essentially prompted the original Scream killers to go on their spree. After the previous entries coyly blamed movies for real-life violence, this movie points out the innate hypocrisy in that joke. After all, Hollywood is a corrupt place full of hidden crimes.
In one of the more powerful scenes in the movie, Sidney wanders onto the Stab 3 set, into a shockingly faithful recreation of her bedroom, where she pointedly recalls her old (murderous) boyfriend's attempts to pressure her into sex. But this isn't her room. It's tainted by Hollywood. The movie subtly tells us that this space has been corrupted by the patriarchy by apparently replacing Sidney's poster of the Indigo Girls (a representation of feminism) ...
... with a poster of Creed (a representation of toxic male cock-rockery).
Barb Wire Is Dumb, But Surprisingly Progressive And Politically Relevant Today
When it came out in 1996, Barb Wire seemed like the cinematic equivalent of a tattered Playboy left in the woods. A sci-fi action movie starring Pamela Anderson seemingly held little interest to anyone who wasn't a hormone-ridden teen desperate for any glimpse of female anatomy while the internet was still barely a thing.
Looking back, a lot of people have reappraised the merits of Barb Wire. Sure, it's dumb, but the mere fact that it was a female-driven comic book adaptation makes it significant, even today.
The movie is actually surprisingly relevant, even prescient, when seen now. The opening credits roll along with Barb's seductive striptease, because who wouldn't be aroused by champagne-soaked nipples hovering next to Clint Howard's name?
It's pretty much how you would expect a Pamela Anderson vehicle to go down -- that is, until the credits end. It's revealed that Barb is dancing in a swank nightclub, and soon a drunken lout heckles her, calling her "babe." Her response? She whips a stiletto heel into his goddamn skull.
Yeah, she fucking kills a guy for catcalling her in a bar. In fact, for a movie seemingly marketed as T&A for 14-year-olds, it repeatedly punishes spectators objectifying Anderson. A later, similarly revealing scene finds her taking a bubble bath. When she realizes someone is secretly leering at her, she immediately pulls a gun on them. She's practically pointing that gun at the viewer.
It's as if the movie is teaching its audience that women have agency over their own sexuality and gawking at them is creepy -- you know, the exact opposite message one would expect from this stupid flick. If Barb Wire were to be released now, it might even be received as a badass feminist response to Trump and Weinstein, with Barb constantly taking down powerful men who attempt to objectify and assault her, such as a lecherous creep at the strip club whom she blow-darts to death.
Politically, too, the movie is surprisingly in touch with modern times. Barb Wire takes place in a future in which the country's been ruined by a second civil war following a rise of American Nazism ... which happens in the year 2017. Huh.
While a lot of the story elements are obviously ridiculous, they're all layered on a surprisingly sturdy structure: the plot of Casablanca. As many critics have pointed out, Barb Wire is a futuristic update of the Hollywood classic, with Anderson as a somewhat bustier Humphrey Bogart. It even blatantly re-stages the iconic ending:
Yup, Barb Wire is gender-swapped cyberpunk remake of one of the greatest movies of all time. So until someone puts Jenny McCarthy in a cyborg-filled version of Citizen Kane, it's certainly unique.
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