Sound the death knell on another piece of technology once believed to be the ultimate in its field – the plasma television. For those that missed it, Panasonic has officially thrown in the towel and will end production at month’s end, conceding its loss to LCD TVs (which are invariably more affordable). Still, for all plasma fans (such as this writer) all is not lost. Just as time has marched forward without other objects now viewed as superannuated, we will learn to make do with these new (and usually better) replacements. Either that, or you could still make use out of many of them – and simply deal with the strange looks from most friends and relatives when they catch you watching a Beta tape (I kid! I kid!). Either way – there is hope! Time waits for no man (or machine) as these five examples demonstrate.
VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders)
No one says DVDs aren’t better, but tapes still have a place for many. Crazy collectors aside (known for hunting down flicks not available on DVD), VCRs are also great for kids movies.
Once upon a time, photography students dreamed of having their own home darkrooms. Digital photography (and Photoshop) usurped those visions. Still, few actually print photos nowadays, which is a shame.
At one time omnipresent and only quarter a call. Cost-effective – and no data plan required. That being said, most were grimier that a body shop waiting area, and, you had to share. Kinda gross.
Speaking of phones, land lines within the home are likewise fast-becoming outmoded. Still, when the zombie apocalypse hits, good luck with the dead cell battery.
The hipster way to collect classic music, the vinyl record has somehow risen from the grave - even after cassettes, CDs and MP3s/iTunes long ago gave it its last rites. Still, fads don’t usually last.
There are certain characters that have become inextricably affiliated with art films, or at least films of similar high regard. These characters are often dealing with extreme emotional turmoil and their life journeys raise profound questions about the human condition. But when listing the types of characters that tend to populate movies with praiseworthy artistic sensibilities, hitmen would have a rather lengthy wait before hearing their name mentioned. This is unjust.
Since the golden age of the western, and then into the height of the Warner Gangster movies, we have developed an affinity for outlaws — and hitmen would certainly qualify as such. The idea of centering a film on an antihero who kills people for a living may seem a function of baser exploitation, but the fact is that some truly outstanding films, well deserving of being lauded as works of art, have featured all manner of assassins (and this week’s Killing Them Softly may join their ranks). So how do these films separate themselves from the cheaper action shoot-em-ups that might also revolve around contract killers?
The Duality of Humanizing
The most recognizable difference between a multifaceted, morally ambiguous protagonist, and a reprehensible or one-note killer meant to please the groundlings , is the degree to which the filmmaker humanizes that character. It is a means of adding complexity and, in some cases, uneasy amiability to characters our moral compass should have us rejecting outright. The interesting thing about some of the truly great films about assassins, however, is that the injection of humanity doesn’t have to absolve their sins.
In Luc Besson’s Leon, Jean Reno plays a ruthless hitman who, against his better judgment, takes in the daughter, played by Natalie Portman, of a recently murdered couple. His relationship with Portman allows the audience to forgive him his murderous occupation. Luc Besson adeptly plays with the gray moral standards by having Leon’s twelve-year-old ward discover and accept his profession. Leon’s commitment to protecting her, and indeed to maintaining her happiness, makes him incredibly empathetic and we no longer see him as merely a mass murderer for hire.
But humanizing a character does not always result in a good guy. Take Anton Chigurh in The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Javier Bardem does an amazing job portraying Chigurh as, not so much an assassin, but as a force of Biblical wrath; something Old Testament that cannot be deterred by any interference from mankind. And yet, the last we see of Chigurh, he’s wounded in a completely boneheaded car accident and limps into the sunset. Do we like Chigurh as a result? No. But this moment makes the monster mortal; adding a layer of nuance and density to that role. It also plays perfectly into the Coens’ darkest of senses of humor.
Watch: Brad Pitt Is The Great American Gangster in 'Killing Them Softly' — TRAILER
Speak The Speech, I Dare You
These two differing tactics for humanizing your hitmen actually coalesce in Pulp Fiction. We do like Jules and Vincent, but we have no illusions about their turpitude. One could argue in fact that the moment we like them most is when they nearly irrevocably screw up that hit by accidentally shooting Marvin in the face. They become more relatable at that point, more human; who hasn’t messed up on the job? However, there is also something to be said for the dialogue elevating a standard and, fittingly, pulpy hitman story.
There is a classic-style ritual to the way particularly Jules carries out his assignments. He recites Bible passages in a slowly building monologue that serves as the victim’s last rites. Is it immensely quotable? Absolutely, but this dialogue isn’t just for spectacle. The pulse of Pulp Fiction is in its language, its vocabulary and specificity of referential jargon. So much of the character-building necessary to make something more of a fimic killer is tied up in what they say and how they say it. Actions may speak louder than words, but ask yourself this question: once Jules is done delivering his thunderous sermon, do we ever see one bullet enter the victim to whom he is preaching?
Death: The Ultimate Punchline
Let us again examine the Coens and their, shall we say, advanced sense of humor, which tends to turn up in even the most somber of situations. Fargo is absolutely a comedy, and astonishingly we even find ourselves laughing at hitman Steve Buscemi in a wood chipper. There is something to be said for these darkly comedic approaches allowing us to subconsciously deal more directly with our own mortality. We laugh at death to take at least an ounce out of the sting of its inevitability.
Similarly, we are given leave to laugh at death in films like In Bruges and Grosse Point Blank, two fundamentally great films about assassins. The wisecracking, sometimes farcical hitmen we see in such films don’t just aid in our unspoken coping with the big sleep. These films are great because the universal themes our more flawed hitters represent make them more organic and tangible. We might not be able to say we’ve ever collected on a death contract, but bad vacations and the discomfort of a high school reunion? Those are obstacles we’ve had to check off our own hit list.
Again, by the according-to-Hoyle notions of right and wrong, assassins are less than exemplary, but that does not necessarily mean they are bereft of honor. What tends to account for the elevated auteur nature of the truly great cinematic hitmen is their adherence to their own personal codes. Leon’s number one rule would be echoed by many hitters in films both prior to and following Besson’s film: no women, no kids. It’s may be a simple edict, but the moral divide between audience and criminal protagonist shrinks considerably at its employment.
But these codes can often be stricter and more elaborate. Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai tells the story of a French killer who abided by a Spartan, or rather Samurai, existence free of all extravagance. Another killer who followed closely to the ancient Bushido was Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog. These are characters that live outside the law, but their self-imposed ethics make them respectable. The demise of these characters usually follows a rare lapse in their abiding by their own codes; Charles Bronson in The Mechanic could certainly attest to that.
[Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company; Miramax Pictures]
Why Wreck-It Ralph Is a Modern Blue-Collar Hero
The Best Female Badasses in Movies
'Taken 2' Writer Talks Sequelizing, Says Success Means 'Taken 3' Is On — EXCLUSIVE
You Might Also Like:
Cory and Topanga Are In! Big ‘Boy Meets World’ Spinoff News
12 Hot (And Horrifying) TV Nude Scenes
Martin Sheen has spoken candidly about his battle with booze on the set of the film and director Francois Ford Coppola recently revealed in a GQ interview that his star was so close to death at 36 a priest was called to the set to read him his last rites.
The moviemaker insists Charlie was hit hardest by his father's struggles.
When his remarks were read to the Wall Street star during a TV interview with Access Hollywood, Sheen recalled the trip to the Philippines, where he watched his father battle the booze.
The embattled star says, "It was shocking to see him walk up on a cane, but I brought a couple of gloves and a baseball and we just threw the ball every day... It was the only exercise he could really do and it was the only thing I knew how to do that I could offer... Those are fabulous memories."
The younger Sheen is now battling his own substance abuse issues and is currently in rehab after a series of wild parties, which ended with his hospitalisation with an apparent hernia.
S2: E3 This week’s episode had it all – politics, jealousy, AOL News, and even death! Annie and Britta built an extensive diorama to raise money for the victims of the oil spill (plus, Annie says she didn’t have any ideas for the disaster in Haiti). Shirley is jealous that the girls are doing it without her and Jeff comes in and asks the girls if they’ve become moonshiners. When they respond indignantly, “Did you even know there was an oil spill?” Jeff says he does because he has AOL News marked as his homepage (duh). “Did you even know about the ostrich that raised the tiger cub?” (AOL - home of important news.)
Troy comes in crying because he just saw a dead body – it was Pierce’s mom. He’s traumatized, “She was so cold and gray…I saw her underwear.” Laugh if you must, but that is something that can’t be unseen, okay? Just then, Pierce jaunts in, whistling and smiling. He insists that his mother isn’t dead because like him, she was a level five laser lotus (yep, he’s still in that cookie wand wielding, wizard robe wearing, laser-lovin’ cult) and she’s being vaporized so she can come back to life in the future. That’s some Scientology shit right there. Troy bursts into tears and Jeff breaks the tension with more AOL wisdom, “You guys hear about that turtle in China? Two packs a day.” Cute. We get it, AOL News does a lot of dumb animal stories.
The gang tries to figure out a way to get Pierce to accept his mother’s death. Abed points out that Pierce hasn’t cried and from what he’s heard, that’s not normal. They all squabble about ways of coping with death and different religious rites, Britta of course says religions are concocted as a coping mechanism – who do they think they are this week, Glee? Jeff stops them and says they should all be tolerant enough to let Pierce believe whatever he chooses (even though, as Annie gripes, Pierce’s religion has lasers). “Can’t you be cool, like me?” Jeff Winger, how is it that you make me want to hug you and smack you in the face at the same time?
Then it’s time for Anthropology class, but before the professor arrives, Pierce takes a moment to explain what it feels like to be vaporized: it’s like getting a bite of fudge on the sundae when it’s still hot or being the first to break in a new boob job. Well crap, that’s got Troy-bait written all over it.
The new professor begins class; Betty White’s Professor Bauer was suspended for trying to strangle Jeff in episode one, so John Oliver’s Professor Ian Duncan takes over despite knowing absolutely nothing about Anthropology – that’s the American education system for ya. As he starts his non-lecture, Chang bursts in through the classroom doors like a cowboy in an old west saloon. Remember their blowout in last season’s finale? It’s still going strong, and this time it comes with a restraining order. Luckily for Chang, he can stay in the classroom because the back row is 25 feet from where Professor Duncan stands at the front. Score one for Chang! (Plus, it’s nice to see him take a hiatus from obsessing over the study group, but don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll be back to that soon enough.)
Britta and Annie finally take their diorama to the quad in an attempt to raise money for the oil spill. Britta yells at students to donate and Annie flirts and bounces as Greendale dudes fawn all over and donate their life savings to the cause in her honor. (That’s two episodes in a row that reference Annie’s bouncing boobs. Does anyone else sense a new character in development?)
Meanwhile, Jeff goes to the health center to get his test results. Guest star Patton Oswalt plays the nurse, Jack, who returns Jeff’s near perfect results. There’s just one thing, Jeff needs to start taking cholesterol medication. When Jeff freaks out, Jack asks, “Did I accidentally tell you you have AIDS, because I’ve done that before.” Oh, Patton, your part here is tiny, but you never cease to make me chuckle. Jeff angrily takes Jack’s direction, peeling the whites off of boiled eggs in the cafeteria and professing his new belief that nothing matters because we’re all dying. (Lighten up, dude.) At the same time, Annie and Britta are arguing because Annie’s so-called “sexy school girl act” is earning more money for the oil spill. Then girl fight! (But not the kind you’re thinking, take that down a notch and sprinkle in a few 7th grade insults.)
In Anthropology class and Pierce brandishes his lava lamp (supposedly full of his mother’s vaporized remains). This sets Jeff off and he rips on Pierce’s Skymall “tube of jello,” and now who's the intolerant one? The rest of the group lets Pierce explain his religion – it’s like a video game, with different levels and “eventually, you can even eat a ghost!” (Itsa-Mario…reference.) Of course Troy is now interested, “I WANNA EAT A GHOST.” Jeff calls out Pierce’s religion as a cult and Pierce shakes it off, inviting everyone to his church for free wine, beer and credit checks. (To make sure they can afford lava lamps for their loved ones, of course.)
Back in the cafeteria, Britta dresses like a school girl, telling boys she “wuvs pelicans” and garnering higher donations for her efforts. She and Annie escalate their fight, and Annie takes a jab at Britta saying she wears hooker boots and wakes up early to “ever so slightly curl her hair.” (Finally someone said it, she’s a tough girl with perfect hair? No way.) Shirley’s bitterness is growing as she mutters, “Skinny bitches." A few tables over, Jeff explains himself to Professor Duncan (remember, they’re old chums from somewhere or something…). He’s angry because he’s deprived himself of bad food all his life and he’s still being punished – with a manageable level of cholesterol, you big baby – for letting himself be his own religion and that’s why he needs to “kick Pierce’s in the balls.” Professor Duncan doesn’t stop him and instead takes a minute to use his 25 foot restraining order force-field to keep Chang out of the cafeteria. He is continually a pompous ass but we forgive him; he's got that little British accent and it’s pretty much a free pass.
Out in the quad, Troy and Pierce are ready to tell Jeff all about the laser religion, so Jeff says he’ll take them to get ice cream when really he plans to take them to the morgue to see Pierce’s dead mother. (Okay, now he’s just gone balls to the wall crazy.) Annie and Britta can’t be bothered to listen to his plan because they’re still fighting. Jeff makes a crack about making out with both of them and that sets them off. They have their own oil spill and end up wrestling in it. And now you can get excited about a girl fight, boys.
In the car, Pierce finds a CD from his mother. Her message is simple, she’s dead, not vaporized and Pierce’s lava lamp of vaporized remains is made in China. (She said sentimental stuff too, but who needs that?) Pierce throws the CD out the window declaring that she’d clearly lost her marbles at the end and finally Jeff accepts that Pierce truly believes his ridiculous religion. (Oh, and they skip that whole morgue thing and get ice cream. Happy, happy!)
Britta and Annie bond over the disgusting nature of the men who ogled their oil fight and hug and make up (still covered in oil, and only resulting in more ogling). It turns out Chang also filed a restraining order for Duncan’s abuse of the previous restraining order. Duncan appreciates his plan for “mutually assured destruction” and an unholy union is formed. Ruh-roh.
No Troy and Abed sign-off this week, they did have Betty White discussing Inception with two African tribesmen. Can you believe one of them hasn’t seen it? What is he, living under a rock or something? Oh, wait, for real? He is? Apologies, dude.
Two weeks after his succumbing to cancer, the secrecy surrounding George Harrison's last rites and the actual place of his death suggests a deliberate attempt to protect his dignity and prevent his final resting place from becoming a stop on tour attraction. According to Reuters, a death certificate listing a nonexistent address contradicts reports that Harrison died at the home of friend and security consultant Gavin de Becker. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said Wednesday that celebrities often use this ruse to throw off reporters and that giving a different address as the place of death is not a crime. Harrison's ashes were reportedly scattered in the Ganges River following his death on Nov. 29.
Julia Roberts will host the A&E documentary Old Friends, which focuses on three women from a small town outside Chicago who have remained good friends since 1906. The show is scheduled for broadcast next year, The Associated Press reports.
Alanis Morissette will release an album of all new material on February 26, followed by a world tour. According to Rolling Stone, Under Rug Swept will feature 11 songs written and produced entirely by Morissette and include guest spots from Me'shell Ndegéocello, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean Deleo and former Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery. Songs written and recorded during the Under Rug Swept sessions that were not featured on the final album will be released as a separate album at a later date.
The NFL announced Tuesday that pop star Mariah Carey will sing "The Star Spangled Banner" before Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on Feb. 3. U2 will perform during the halftime show and pre-show performers will be announced next week, SonicNet reports.
Fox announced it will release X-Men 2, the sequel to last year's X-Men, on May 2, 2003. While the original cast will reprise their roles, including Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Halle Berry, the sequel will feature several new mutants from the X-Men comics universe, Variety reports. Shooting will begin next May in Canada.
The two surviving members of the influential rock group Nirvana have filed a counterclaim to Courtney Love's lawsuit seeking control of the Nirvana catalogue, Launch.com reports. In conjunction with the suit, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic released a letter to Nirvana fans stating they had no choice but to respond to her misguided campaign and lawsuits to appropriate the music of Nirvana. "Our music is just a pawn in her endless legal battles and her obsessive need for publicity and attention," the letter states.
Barbra Streisand received the Liberty and Justice Award from the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition civil rights organization on Tuesday night at the Beverly Hilton hotel, AP reports. Jesse Jackson founded the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition 30 years ago. Sugar Ray Leonard, Chris Tucker and Smokey Robinson attended the gala, which was also a celebration of Jackson's 60th birthday on Oct. 8.
Billy Joel will be honored in February as the 2002 MusicCares Person of the Year for his accomplishments as a musician and as a humanitarian, Reuters reports. MusicCares was established in 1989 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to provide assistance to musicians. Joel will receive the honor at a special tribute dinner, concert and silent auction held on Feb. 25 in Los Angeles.
Joni Mitchell, Al Green, Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney and Count Basie will receive Lifetime Achievement Awards at the 2002 Grammy Awards on Feb. 27 in Los Angeles, Rolling Stone reports. The Lifetime Achievement Awards recognize artists for lifelong contributions to the recording medium.
French actor Jean Richard died Wednesday at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer, AP reports. Richard appeared in some 80 movies but was most famous for his pipe-smoking detective on the long-running TV show The Investigations of Inspector Maigret. He also created the Jean Richard Circus in 1957 and the La Mer de Sable theme park in 1963, which are still owned by his family.