Torture Porn: The Kids Aren’t Watching Jason and Freddie Anymore

A young woman is chained to a metal chair. We see her face melt under the heat of a blowtorch.

A man is snared in a complicated piece of machinery that slowly turns his limbs until his bones snap and break through his skin. The final action for the machine is to turn his neck around until it too slowly snaps.

Another young woman having been raped and beaten is tied to a post. We casually watch as her captor loads a gun and then shots her in the shoulder. She screams but the abuse doesn't stop there.

These are descriptions of the images served by Hollywood today (Hostel, Saw and Wolf Creek respectively). Today the most vile and disturbing works has infested the genre of horror. Many people have never enjoyed horror films. They are scary, they are intentionally violent and since the 1960’s, they are usually rather brutal and gory. These days however, horror has taken a turn for the worse (and yes, that is possible).

The term “torture porn” is becoming more widespread. It speaks to the latest development in horror movies. Instead of seeing the evil on screen from the point of view of the victim(s) we are now provided a view of the action from the killer’s side of things. This is not to say we are putting the knife into the screaming teenage girl’s stomach (although if that’s your thing, there are plenty of video games that will allow you that thrill.) What is happening is that we, as audience members, are shown extended and very realistic scenes of torture. Like the scenes described above, the horror films being produced around the world (in particular in America and Europe) now rely less on suspense and fright as they do brutality and shock.

What is important is that these scenes are without moral contexts. They are there to titillate and to shock. Less any moral framework, these pieces effectively support the actions of the killer by not overtly condemning their actions. With no moral structure frame what we are viewing, we are asked to indulge in the same rush of seeing someone else in pain that is driving the tormentor. The rush of seeing someone else in pain is a dangerous drug to get addicted to and filmmakers are more than happy to make a buck serving it to the masses. Many of the filmmakers see their works as art, as examinations of the human psyche and of evil itself. But this new brand of cinema reduces the tone of fantasy from the narrative. Its one thing to see Freddie Kreuger carving up teens in their dreams and seeing the vicious killers in extended ten minute rape scene in Gaspar No√©’s crime drama Irr√©versible that goes out of its way to be as real as possible. With basic morality cast aside and a premium on realism, these scenes of torment are cinematic candy for the sick. They cater to the deranged individual in the audience and effectively condone their ill thoughts.

Gone are the monolithic evil killing machines like Jason, Michael Myers or Freddie Kreuger. These villains have been updated for a new generation. In a post-modern world one cannot abide by mythical figures hunting down a gaggle of teens in the woods. That’s too comical and too connected our folklore past (think Little Red Riding Hood, Jason would be the big bad wolf in this instance.) Like the Big Bad Wolf, Jason, Leatherface, Dracula or Frankenstein the big villain in horror movies has traditionally been a tool of morality (of sorts). Its not an accident that the slasher films of the 1970’s and 80’s concentrated on a virginal princess type evading a brutal harbinger of death who kills the immoral. Jason’s victims were the sexually flamboyant, the drug users and the coarse people in the crowd. They sinned and then died. As sick as the slasher movies were, there was a real and notable morality at play. I know it’s a little like saying that eating a dog turd will give you extra fiber, but compared to what is being produced today, Friday the 13th seems like a Greek tragedy.

For Christians, the question we must look at is why are these films are being made. I believe it goes to our post-modern society. We (as a culture) have forsaken God. We have decided (the cultural elites have decided) that he doesn't exist and his followers are all fools. At least two American generations have been raised with this mindset constantly being drummed into their heads. Once you remove God, you remove the roots for any real morality. You also remove the roots for any real purpose in the universe. The absence of real morality and purpose is at the heart of a post-modern (existentialist) worldview. The works at the cinema reflect this lack of direction. Anything goes now because the only moral force in action is that which the elites decide should be in place. When morality is placed in the hangs of people, morality begins to lose its stability. Good suddenly begins to look more and more like bad and bad becomes far more agreeable.

In generations past horror was used to scare people into correct ways of living. The witch in Hansel and Gretel and the story of Count Dracula served the same function as Michael Myers did for the kids in the 1970’s. Today with the moral vacuum the elites are promoting, this generation is getting the scare without the lesson. This is akin to giving them the poison without the antidote. Without a moral cure for the evil that is presented, the audience learns that their fate is sealed and there is no escape. Christians should know better, but others do not.

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Review Link: An Arctic Tale

My friend Leticia over at Cause For Our Joy has posted a review of the new film An Arctic Tale.

She raises some red flags bout the film. Check out her review by clicking on the poster to the left..

I’m Scared, They’re Being Nice to Me: Reacting to Christian Marketing

In 2004, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ walked away with over $611 million in worldwide gross at the box office. The unique success of this film brought with it a lesson that struck at the heart of Hollywood:

Christians have money.

Hollywood was shocked to learn that responsible people who focus their lives on obeying God, getting married, settling down, raising kids and generally keeping their collective noses clean, end up having money. Moreover, these societal aberrations are willing to act in tandem with one another. Once this fact came to light, it probably took about five seconds of looking at the scope of “Christian film” before the marketing directors of Hollywood began to wonder “Geez, I bet these Christians would like movies that didn’t have to come with barf bags.”

A friend turned me on to an article at The Florida Times-Union. The basic gist is this, movie marketers are trying to lure Christians and Christian leaders to spend money one films and this is cause for concern. In the article James A. Smith, Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness states that “My point, basically, is we're becoming co-opted by Hollywood.” I take Mr. Smith’s point …and then I quickly disregard it. Let me explain why.

Hollywood knows Christians are under-served and hungry for good products. A hungry and well monied audience is a marketer’s dream. It shouldn't be a surprise they have come knocking at our church doors. Church leaders can get free merchandising and tickets to films such as Evan Almighty, Spiderman 3 and other box-office behemoths. They can be offered notes on how to mention these products in their sermons and are offered study guides. Some church leaders are even provided with meet-and-greets with the filmmakers and actors. All of this is intended to get said church leader to either mention the film before their congregation or to at least begin a word-of-mouth movement within the Christian community. The intended end result is to get us to go see movies.

What’s the problem with this again?

Given that Christians tend to be a paranoid and ungrateful lot when it comes to Hollywood, more and more of us are bemoaning that movie marketers are attempting to usurp the pulpit. Many Christians look at the influx of movie marketing as being a cynical attack on our faith.

We need to make up our minds.

Christians have been moaning for the longest time that Hollywood is not making movies the way that they want. Now Hollywood has turned their attention our way and is intentionally trying to court us. We need to acknowledge this and work with them. Secular Hollywood may be driving the cultural car but they’re finally asking us for directions. Perhaps we should stop telling them to go to hell.

Evan AlmightyHere is the deal, it is a blessing that Hollywood is attempting to cater to our needs. It is a blessing they are actively trying to get us to see their works. Hollywood marketing to us is a golden opportunity for us to help them improve their products. Instead of looking at their attempts to woo us as being some disgusting attempt to sully our church, we need to look at this as a chance to let them know exactly what we want. This is their way of saying that they want to work with us. They want to serve us. We need to respond with open hands not closed minds.

In the article, James A. Smith, Sr rightly urges “more caution and wisdom” when confronted with marketing. I could not agree more. The marketers are looking to make money and are not concerned with the effects their works will have on the church. That’s not their job. Their job is to get butts in cinema seats. Being concerned about the effects of influences on your church is the job of your church leader. As the face of the church our leaders must be strong enough not to be tripped up by some shyster with an Evan Almighty official collector’s fanny pack. If you have serious concerns that your church leader will be duped by marketing efforts then you need to find yourself a new church leader. Personally, I have no concerns about marketing influencing the leaders of my church. They’re not cultural hermits and are engaged in the culture. This means they’re aware enough to not be lured easily. They will direct us to films they know will be good for us to see. Just like they do for books, just like they do for other areas of life.

Like Hollywood, churches perform marketing campaigns as well and use the same marketing techniques to get their message across. The marketing itself is not evil and we should not be so cynical when we see it. Yes, Hollywood is looking to get their mitts on your cash. They will certainly step over the line at times in their attempt to get our "Passion dollars". When this happens it simply means they’re desperate to get our attention. I say let’s give them our attention. Let’s welcome them and let them know how to make products that will serve our needs. Both groups can only improve from the relationship.

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Hot Fuzz (2007)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Hot FuzzShould I see it?

Director: Edgar Wright
Written by: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Bill Nighy

Rated R for graphic violence and language

Buy or Rent This Movie HereHot Fuzz

Filmmakers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright pay homage to all of the stupid action movies they’ve ever seen. Much like what they had done with their ode to zombie movies with Shaun of the Dead, the intent of this work is to stand on the shoulders of the slouching giants that came before them.

Pegg portrays Sergeant Nicholas Angel, a tightly wound cop who is exiled to a small village when his colleagues in London find his excessive police talents too much to compete against. While in the village the ever diligent Angel teams up with a bloated cop named Danny Butterman. The two uncover a village wide murderous conspiracy. This simple fish out of water story is fun to watch and is handled, for the most part, expertly by Pegg and Wright.

There isn’t a grand scheme at work here. The underachieving point of the film is to simply give a nod to other underachieving films (the Keanu Reeves embarrassing action flick Point Break is given prominence). This film manages to do this easily. They offer affection towards stupid action movies while providing one at the same time.

This is a goofy movie but it has the sense to not take itself too seriously. This may seem like a small deal, it isn’t. In a day and age where Quintin Tarantino is considered to be a visionary, its nice to see some post-modernists who know their disposable culture isn’t critical.

Worldview: This film concentrates on the notions of duty and purpose. Sergeant Angel is so committed to his work that he fails to live a life. Conversely, his partner Butterman is such a slouch that he fails to be useful. The two transition away from their faulty behavior (Angel loosens up while Butterman becomes a real cop) as the film pushes forward. The trajectories of the characters aren’t anything new and are rather tedious. However, it should be noted that the film does support some morality that makes sense.

There is also a strong strain of through against being too prideful. I can’t really get into it without ruining the film so I’ll be a little ambiguous. Suffice to say that being overly concerned with rewards can lead to a downfall. This is clearly expressed in this production.

Production Notes: Where the film runs into a spot of concern is in its creation. What we have here is postmodern filmmakers offering homage to the works they’ve enjoyed in the past. This isn’t that big of a deal and it’s not a deal breaker in regards to seeing this film.

What we see here with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, considering their previous work, is a couple of men raised on Hollywood McMovies. While their ode to action movies is tongue-in-cheek and not really meant to honor the other works. They know that films such as Point Break and Bad Boys are horrid movies but they also know they are enjoyable and have had an impact on international society. This is where they part ways with their contemporary postmodernists Quintin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez who take the putrid drainage that flows from world cinema as being worthy of praise. Tarantino in particular has made a living from reviving disposable culture and treating it like it is high art. Pegg and Wright also perform this task but do so to lovingly mock the low quality fluff that the entertainment industry has been pumping out for forty years. There no pretense that what they’re up to has any value. At least they should get credit for knowing what they’re doing.

Cautions: This is an action film so there’s plenty of violence. The actual action sequences aren’t too heavy however. There’s little blood or gore in these sequences just comical tongue-in-cheek violence. Oddly though the aftermath of the murders which leads to the action sequences is where the film reserves all of its most adult content. Be warned, the murder victims are shown being stabbed, decapitated, burned and crushed. There’s absolutely no reason for the filmmakers to show this content but they do. Their lack of control is unfortunate since the remainder of the film is remarkably tame in regards to the presentation of violence.

I also need to note that there is a load of cursing. There's more swear words here than after Sean Penn stubs his toe.

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Reader Mail: Somebody in Hollywood Made a Mistake, This Film Didn’t Stink

One of my readers e-mailed a question I thought was worthy of answering here. He had just finished To Kill a Mockingbird and was wondering:

What is it about the style and pace that makes it so different (and good)? I don't understand why they there aren't more films that capture that feeling. Is it the casting as much as the story? Or is it just the whole package?

To Kill a Mockingbird movie posterThis is a complicated question that has many angles. To get to the roots of this, the inquiry can be broken down into two sections:

1. Why was this film so good?

2. Why don’t they make more films that don’t make me want to dry heave?

The specific reasons why one would like this film are numerous. At the center of the piece is a fantastic story. The novel is a classic of American literature and this film does well by its source material. Both writers, Harper Lee who wrote the book and the screenwriter, Horton Foote who adapted the piece for the screen, are both Pulitzer Prize winners. This was back when winning the Pulitzer was a meaningful achievement. The work of these two is the foundation for the success of this piece. The main reason for this production working so well is because it was written first and then produced.

This isn't always the case.

What I mean to say is that the script was carefully built. It was created with a literate mind at work. Often adaptations are lousy affairs where the original material is injured by the experience. If the screenwriter is a screenwriter first and isn’t versed in the broader areas of literature and dramatics, translating a complicated piece like this will most surely fail. While this piece isn’t a page by page translation, Foote’s obviously understood the work and went forward with thoughtful concern for what he was doing.

Another important point about this production is the director and lead actor. The director Robert Mulligan was at the top of his game during this period. He was brilliant with actors and assisted the likes of Ellen Burstyn, Natalie Wood and others to Oscar wins. In this piece, he helped the lead Gregory Peck win his Oscar for Best Performance. Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch is one of the better cinematic performances of his generation.

The short answer here is that you liked this film because it was well done. The casual pace matched the low boil the film is set to. The intelligence of the performances is in sync with the depth of the material. In other words, the best people doing the best work they’d produce in their lives built this film.

How many productions can boast that?

Looking to the other question of why aren't more films made like this? Well, first and foremost it is an issue of marketing. The development of the “target audience” has killed literate film.

There has been a slight culture change. We’ve devolved from reading works like To Kill a Mockingbird, of Mice and Men, and In Cold Blood to consuming Stephen King and Harry Potter. Obviously people still review the classics but these folks aren't those the marketers in Hollywood wish to woo. Look around, do you see some dim eyed, moron teen frantically working over their cell phone.

That’s the lump of humanity the movies are made for these days.

Go ask the aforementioned moron their thoughts on the character arc of Atticus Finch. Ask them about Lee, Steinbeck or Hemingway. Ask them if they know what a book is.

I bet they won’t know what you’re talking about. C’mon, they’re a moron – morons don’t know anything that’s why they’re morons. That is also why they go to give money to any movie that is pushed in front of them.

There’s a deeper issue at work within the industry as well. Unlike many directors and actors today, the folks from back in Gregory Peck’s day had serious dues to pay. This is not to take away from the work people do these days to get their big breaks. Back then however, it was common for actors and directors to come from theatrical backgrounds. They learned their craft not from some film school but from the theater. Peck, as an example, left Berkley to get into acting. He trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and made his way to Broadway before breaking into the movie business. While most actors still are trained, and trained by effective teachers, many go directly into film/television acting. Sure, many still attempt the theatrical life, it is safe to say that many simply head out East for the Gold Rush. The separation of film from theater another reason for the illiteracy in our entertainment. Those directing film/television are trained for these areas. They rarely have any theatrical background at all. Therefore, they begin their careers without being versed in the classics of our civilization. Instead they worship at the shrines of world cinema. This is how we end up with the likes of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez. While they may be great guys to have a beer with, they are useless when it comes to insightful works that improve humanity. If one doesn't have an understanding of the classics of drama they lose the broader view of this world. This, as we can see, leads to the artist having much less to say about this world.

To summarize:

1. Why was this film so good? It is a piece built by the best in the business doing their best work.

2. Why don’t they make more films that don’t make me want to dry heave? Those who are not our best and brightest are making works to satisfy the common denominators in our society.

To finish I want to remind folks of a couple of things:

1. You can e-mail me with any film related question and I will be more than happy to oblige. If I don’t know the answer, I know where to direct you to find resolution to your query.

2. Any such e-mails are subject to being republished here (without your name) if the answer matches my content.

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

powered by Blogger | WordPress by Newwpthemes