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Posts tagged ‘movies’

The Worst Cinematic Portrayals of College Life

This guest post was written by Crystal Hall over at thebestdegress.org. You can read the full version here.

Let’s start here: you were cooler than you think in college. Although movies often rest on the assumption that their viewers will suspend disbelief for a few hours and fall into their world, some films fare better at this than others. This is not to argue that movies should all be hyper-realistic — they’re pieces of art, and there’s real life for that. But there’s something to be said for the hyper-ridiculous setting. Enter: the universities portrayed in the movies. And because no one wants to be bored with a list of bad flicks, we’ve found instead the most ridiculous. While college life may be a time of wild partying, barely making it, and coming of age, these nine movies feature the most unrealistic (“the worst!”) cinematic portrayals of the subject. Sit back, relax, and thank your lucky stars that you didn’t get your degree in one of these nine worlds.

The Rules of Attraction

The dark comedy Rules of Attraction is one of those movies that’s so stylized and oozing of manufactured cool, it’s almost too annoying to exist. But if you’re into popping Xanax, it could be kind of good — as was the Bret Easton Ellis novel on which it’s based. Although everyone loves a good dark comedy (and the book was certainly that), the apathetic, entitled, depressed, addicted, and oversexed characters in the film make college life seem like more of a high-school chore. Love triangle drama plus pseudo-poignant paragraphs of maudlin social analysis plus crazy parties with rapes and orgies equals college life to the Rules of Attraction crew. Not what we’d bet most folks remember from the glory years of their education.

Accepted

This funny movie has a lot of fans, and was an early vehicle for some of today’s top young stars, but there’s nothing about Accepted that does college on the real. The South Harmon Institute of Technology is a fake college created by Justin Long to appease his movie parents after being rejected from everywhere he applied. And on the first day of class, he learns that there’s a host of other people who were also accepted. A student-led fake college ensues. The film gets self-awareness points for the school being billed from the outset as a farce, but that doesn’t make an abandoned building that former high-schoolers inhabit and play around in all day any more of a realistic university setting.

The Skulls

The Skulls could take up three spots on this list, as the film spawned two(!) straight-to-DVD sequels. But we’ll spare you that to tell you this: if you’ve ever been in a secret society in college, you know that it’s less about political intrigue and more about making you binge drink ten times and wear some type of bedsheet as clothing before its members will let you in their club. Also highly dubious that any college secret society, no matter how powerful, runs mental hospitals and conspires with local police departments. And nobody wants to see Craig T. Nelson with a pencil thin mustache showing up to their secret meetings. Nobody wants to see that.

Click here for the rest of the list.


Racism, The Hunger Games, and Bad Reading Comprehension

Rue from the Hunger Games

Source: AceShowBiz.com

I’m sure by now many of you have already heard about the Tumblr page “Hunger Games Tweets.” It’s a collection of tweets by people griping about the casting of a character named Rue. You see, the film cast 13-year old actress Amandla Stenberg (see above). The tweeters targeted by the Tumblr page bemoaned the fact that the film version of Rue just had to be black. Which is confusing, because in the book she is black, in no uncertain terms. She’s described as having “dark brown skin and eyes,” and later, when the reader is introduced to another character named Thresh, we’re told that he “has the same dark skin as Rue.”

Plenty of whatever the online equivalent of ink is has been spent on this story — what it says about race in America, connecting it to Trayvon Martin’s tragic murder, etc. — but I want to focus a little bit more on what the Tumblr creator’s intent was. His blog has said, essentially, that the main problem is not poor reading comprehension. Rather, it’s that readers naturally assume that Rue, a portrait of doe-eyed innocence, must have pale white skin.

For the sake of this column, we’re going to ignore the insane, aggressively racist tweets. That bigoted nonsense isn’t worth anyone’s time. The more interesting ones are subtler. A number of the tweets say that Rue “should have” looked like some other literary characters, like Harry Potter’s Luna Lovegood or The Lovely BonesSusie Salmon. Notice the theme? Characters who represent sweetness, naiveté, and innocence (or innocent victimhood) are automatically assigned long blonde hair, big blue eyes, and very pale skin.

If you deconstruct this story even further, it asks interesting questions about how we read and how we imagine. When we’re not prompted with details, how do we fill in the blanks? If a story just begins in media res, with no description of the narrator, what do you assume he or she looks like? Do you picture yourself? Do you picture an “average” person? What does “average” mean? Is it, as this Destructoid article pointed out while criticizing modern video games, a middle-aged white man with brown hair and stubble? Or do just keep you mind blank about the specifics until some details can paint a fuller picture?

I’m not suggesting that defaulting to a white male protagonist is racist and sexist. But I do think it’s worth reflecting upon where our mental casting assumptions come from. It’s the classic chicken-or-the-egg question. Are fictional characters assigned certain racial archetypes because that’s what the audience assumes, or does the audience assume certain racial archetypes because that’s what their fictional characters have always looked like?

The Bad (But Fun) Science of John Carter

Image

Source: Walt Disney Studios

In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book A Princess of Mars, and in the film adaptation John Carter, out this week, I don’t think it would be a spoiler to say that the story takes a few liberties with science. Turns out Mars isn’t populated by nomadic tribes of green people and the atmosphere is not safe for shirtless men.

In the story, Carter — already a natural warrior — becomes super-powered on the Martian surface because the lower gravity decreases his mass. That’s the justification for him besting Martians in one-on-one combat, bounding across deserts, and, as seen in the above picture, whipping boulders at giant space hippo-gorillas.

So I guess it’s good that none of the sequels take place on Jupiter, because then Carter would be screwed.

The gravity rationale sums up the book and film’s approach to science very nicely. It feels as if Burroughs (and subsequently director Andrew Stanton) paid just enough attention in physics and astronomy to hear something that sounded cool, but didn’t stick around to hear it get ruined by qualifiers.

(Side note: Siegel and Schuster, the creators of Superman, liked Burroughs’ low-gravity-equals-superpowers idea so much that they used it as the original explanation for where Superman gets his strength. Originally, Superman couldn’t fly, just leapt great distances… just like John Carter.)

But even if it seems like the story is taking a half-ass approach to science, that’s not exactly true. It’s just taking an obsolete approach to science, one that didn’t seem completely unreasonable when Burroughs initially wrote about it. Burroughs was inspired largely by the writings of astronomer Percival Lowell, who spent night after night in his Arizona observatory, making educated guesses about what he could see on Mars. He believed that he could see evidence of canals on Mars, which indicated the presence of a civilized life form.

It’s easy to laugh at him for guessing, but keep in mind, Lowell’s book Mars and Its Canals came out in 1904. He couldn’t exactly send a probe up there at that time to verify his speculations. All he had to work with was a telescope, whatever knowledge of mathematics and physics he had, and imagination.

So even though Lowell was not exactly highly regarded by his contemporaries, since he was guilty of imagining way, way too much, his ideas ultimately found a new life in science fiction, a realm that’s much more rewarding to wild speculation.

If you see John Carter this weekend and have trouble accepting some of the more ludicrous science remind yourself of the hundreds of incidences of bad science you see in just about every movie and TV show. Cars that fall off cliffs don’t explode. Silencers on guns don’t reduce a gunshot to a whisper. Lasers don’t fire little bolts that go “PEW! PEW! PEW!” You can accept a handful of ridiculous science as just part of the fun but reserve scorn for the special few that seem to be playing in a universe with completely different rules. (See Armageddon. No I’m sorry… please do NOT see Armageddon.)

So which is more important in your view of science fiction — the science or the fiction?

(If you want to read a few John Carter novels before seeing the film, check out e-book version, which collects the first five books in the series, along with artwork and a glossary, available for $1.99.)

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