Tag Archives: Kill Bill

Tropes, Archetypes, and Why Original Creative Writing Is Like A Game of Rock, Paper, Scissors

Culture War Reporters, since its inception, has never been a place for fiction of any kind. As a result, when both Gordon and I hang out we often find our discussions centre around stretching our creative muscles, asking questions like: “If you had to come up with a team of mercenaries, with a minimum of five members, what would it look like?”

The issue with all questions like this is that we run into a little something King Solomon said, way back in the day [emphasis added]:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
  there is nothing new under the sun.

How do you come up with something original, something that truly hasn’t been done before? Continue reading

Beyond Good and Evil

Act 2, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the titular character declare that “there is no good or evil, but thinking makes it so.” Years later, this same sentiment would be echoed by Milton’s Lucifer in Paradise Lost, vowing “The mind is its own place, and itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Moral ambiguity, in case you haven’t caught the drift, is the subject of today’s post. Our culture is becoming increasingly saturated with concepts and figures embodying this general rejection of our traditional measures of what right and wrong is. Jump back twenty years, and the definition of a bad guy would be fairly straightforward. A bad guy breaks the law. A bad guy hurts people. A bad guy lies. A bad guy uses people.

Today, all those things would describe five minutes of screen time with Breaking Bad’s Walter White…

Or Sin City’s John Hartigan…

Or The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes…

Or even any of these guys…

And lest anyone think that women are excluded from this mentality…

Now this isn’t the first time we’ve had a run of morally questionable heroes/antiheroes dominating popular culture. If I were to describe tough, unflappable, characters struggling against each other for their own ends and agendas, often in contradiction of the law- you’d probably assume I was talking about characters from some film noir piece.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Throw a mass of people in an economic depression with no end in sight, mix in distrust of the powers that be, add cynicism in regards to any progress or change, and when else can you expect but a tacit respect for the handful of people who do manage to carve themselves out a living. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, “right and wrong” doesn’t quite seem so relevant as “effective or not.” When you feel helpless and voiceless, chances are anyone whose managed to be independent and powerful is going to be attractive- be he/she a suave criminal, a cunning businessman, a shrewd politician (à la Game of Thrones), or even just an all-around tough guy (see Sons of Anarchy).

And we’re not just talking about TV shows here.

Who are the good guys and bad guys in Inception?

Think about it- exactly which characters were representing the side of justice, truth, and freedom? Or Killing Them Softly? The Godfather SeriesThe Big Lebowski?

Our heroes today aren’t crusaders, they’re survivors. They’re those who manage to carve out a slice for themselves in spite of law, society, and conventional morality. “Good and evil” simply aren’t relevant.

And y’know what? I’m not hear to pass judgement on any of that.

There’s strong arguments to be made on all sides for whether or not this is a good or a bad thing or, to put it into morally ambiguous terms, a productive or a destructive thing. There’s even a strong case to be made for the “morally ambiguous” characters on TV and in the movies still never straying too far from anything truly socially unacceptable. Alternatively, you could (and I would) potentially argue that the moral system we had before all this wasn’t actually all that moral to begin with.

And what about the issue of cultural plurality in our ever-shrinking world? When what is right according to my moral code wrong according to yours, how do we proceed? Do we try to find some sort of umbrella system to keep us from fighting each other? Maybe we should declare moral anarchy and simply duke it all out based on the strength of our convictions. Certainly Nietzsche would approve of that.

All that’s to say that the issue’s complicated.

I don’t know, Michael Cera gif, I don’t know…

Speaking for myself, it is nice to see some kind of conviction, even if I don’t agree with the cause at hand. There’s a case to be made for apathy being the pinnacle of all evil. In a world where the greatest battles the average person (or rather, Westerner) faces are over such petty, empty things as getting a dinner order right or having to wait in line, seeing any kind of drive makes for a nice change. As with so much in this past year, it might not be great, but it’s a start.

Evan and Gordon Talk: Django Unchained

GORDON: You know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France?

EVAN: What?

GORDON: A poor attempt at distracting our readers from the fact that we ain’t gonna be talking about drugs like we said we would.

EVAN: I have seen very few Tarantino films, and only barely recognize the references.

GORDON: You make me sad.

EVAN: I know.

That aside, what we’re going to be talking about today is Django Unchained, a movie I finished watching less than an hour ago and the subject of this Monday’s post [written by Gordon].

GORDON: So what did you think?

EVAN: Initial thoughts are: Very long. Not what I expected. Apparently in Django’s world everyone is a skinbag filled to bursting with blood.

GORDON: Speaking as someone who’s fired black-powder guns, I can actually kinda see something like that happening.

EVAN: That is ridiculous, but interesting to know.

Now if you don’t have anything in particular you wanted to talk about, did you want to maybe address Spike Lee’s reaction to this film really quick?

GORDON: The Lee-Tarantino feud has been going on for a long time now, so I really wasn’t surprised that Lee reacted the way he did. I naturally wish he had at least seen the movie, but I don’t think it would’ve made a difference in his mind.

EVAN: To give readers a little context, director Spike Lee tweeted:

American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.

He also straight-up said “I cant speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it. All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”

GORDON: I get where he’s coming from, but (1) I don’t think the movie dishonors the slaves and (2) I don’t think that there should be any time period off-limits for telling stories.

EVAN: I definitely agree with both points. Tarantino does not disrespect the plight of slaves during the time period, and there are really no eras of history that we shouldn’t be allowed to explore through various media. How it’s done is what matters.

GORDON: It’s Tarantino; you either love him or you hate him. He does a spastic, scatterbrained style of movie which is two parts tense dialogue and three parts references to obscure exploitation flicks. It is what it is.

EVAN: So did you like it?

GORDON: I did, but not as much as his other movies. And not for the subject matter, simply for the storytelling. I felt it was anticlimatic. Especially compared to his second latest, Inglourious Basterds.

EVAN: Very much agreed. You expect [SPOILER ALERT YOU’VE BEEN WARNED] Monsieur Candy to be killed by Django, or at least in a big way, but instead he’s just shot by Dr. Schultz with his sleeve-Deringer.

GORDON: And there’s still plenty left in the film, we just kinda trudge through it. I simply wasn’t impressed. I mean- I ain’t asking for a John Wu fightscene, but something more than [SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS, SPOILERS] Django shooting unarmed people from the top of the plantation stairs.

But as far as the whole thing goes, relatively amusing and a major stepping stone in addressing the subject of slavery.

EVAN: I mean, sort of going back to where Lee was coming from, it’s not a very realistic depiction by any means, a revenge story of this fashion can’t be. That being said, isn’t it the same sort of concept as Inglourious Basterds? Revenge enacted by the persecuted?

GORDON: That’s exactly what it is. A revenge fantasy. Bad guys being killed by the people who they oppressed. It gives us a feeling of divine judgment upon the wicked. Which is a theme a lot of westerns have.

REVENGE.

EVAN: I have seen at least one, and you are not wrong.

GORDON: I think what Lee needs to get is this:

This was not a movie about slavery, this was a movie about revenge set in the world of slavery. This wasn’t- and shouldn’t be- taken as a commentary of any kind about African-Americans anymore than Kill Bill should be taken as a commentary on women.

You wanna pick a fight with Tarantino, do it over something that’s actually there. (And just so everyone knows, I really like Spike Lee’s work and admire the guy as an individual)

EVAN: So you’re saying that slavery must be viewed as a backdrop, and not the subject matter? I know that you wrote your Monday post on this, but we can go over it just a little.

GORDON: That’s exactly it. It’s not a history film, it’s a Tarantino film. Don’t look for realism there, and don’t look for buoyancy in a nightstand; it’s not what either of them are for.

EVAN: I agree with you to a point, in that the exploration of slavery was in no means Tarantino’s intent. It’s just difficult to look past that as subject matter when it permeates the film [what with it opening up on a slave’s scarred back, etc].

GORDON: That is true, and you can question whether or not it’s right for Tarantino to use the subject matter to shock and horrify people and draw in crowds, but from what I saw and understood of the film the scenes of horror inflicted upon the slaves were, what’s the word for this, “respectful?” enough to indicate that even blood-and-guts Quentin wasn’t unaware of what he was dealing with.

EVAN: I can accept that. Two more thoughts as we wrap up this talk: the soundtrack and Samuel L. Jackson as a real life Uncle Ruckus.

GORDON: The soundtrack sucked. We can all agree on this. Usually he can make it work- this time he didn’t.

EVAN: My cousin and I actually really liked it.

GORDON: Really? I couldn’t disagree more. I felt it lacked cohesion, which the soundtracks in his other works normally have. Heck, more often than not it’s the commonalities in the soundtracks trying the whole thing together.

EVAN: I felt like the more contemporary hip-hop rap tracks were a little bit jarring, but thought the other songs overall were good picks.

GORDON: We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. Let’s move on.

EVAN: Samuel L. Jackson’s character.

If you don’t know who that is on the right you need to start watching The Boondocks right now. Finish this post first, then immediately go find an episode online or something.

GORDON: I thought he knocked it out of the park. Didn’t have any problem with him whatsoever.

EVAN: 1) Did not know Samuel L. Jackson could play such a convincing old man. 2) Sycophants in films are normally played up for comedic value, and that is no less the case here.

GORDON: Let’s not forget that Jackson was not only an active member of the civil rights movement, but even associated with some of its more radical leaders.

EVAN: That is something that I, and presumably our readers, did not know.

To end this off, did you have a favourite moment in the film? [I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO WARN ABOUT SPOILERS, BUT I AM ANYWAY]

GORDON: For me, it would have to be the scene where Christoph Waltz (who really stole the show) was explaining bounty-hunting the Django in the bar. The dude is awesome to watch.

EVAN: Christoph Waltz’s accent was amazing. I could listen to him talk all day.

My personal favourite was the posse getting ready to go kill Django and Schultz and arguing about the masks. The dialogue was hilarious, and Jonah Hill was a nice surprise, too.

GORDON: That was awesome. And speaking of awesome stuff, our discussion topic for next week:

EVAN: Ah man, I kind of just want to talk about movies. Could we somehow generally address the trend towards big budget sci-fi flicks that’s coming about in Hollywood?

GORDON: No. No more movies. We do ’em too much already.

EVAN: Fine, fine. Suggestions?

GORDON: College: what should its purpose be? Careers or Well-Rounded Individuals?

EVAN: Or just in general, I’m not sure it has to go one of two ways. But that’s a good one. I’m on board.

Thanks everyone for reading, and for continuing to unwittingly stumble upon our blog in 2013! Evan and Gordon out.