Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Genre Mash-ups

In any film analysis class, you learn about genres. Indeed, most people can discern different genres without ever having taken a single film theory class. There is comedy, drama, action, science fiction, etc. Each genre adheres to specific cinematic canon. For instance, horror movies are darkly lit, often use shadows, and always have those pesky noises on the porch that need to be investigated. For more details, see the Scream series and/or (preferably and) the short film above. In that same film class, you also learn about the genre mash-up which, in my text book, has a more a sophisticated and less Glee-inspired name, but, alas and alack, my textbook is in my room and I am on a Boltbus. Genre mash-ups, as I am sure you have guessed, are films that synthesize two or more genres and create a new type of movie. This is why we have been graced with the rom-com and the action/thriller. This is why Murder on the Orient Express + I Love You, Man = Guy Ritchie's bromantic mystery dramedy Sherlock Holmes.

I have been pondering this concept of the genre mash-up since I saw the fascinating Takers. I have finally written about it because it seems that there are a lot of new genre mash-ups coming out. The genre mash-up originated because using just one genre got tired. Now, that has happened again, and new mash-ups are being born. Of course, the most obvious never-before-seen mash-up is Jon Favreau's upcoming Cowboys and Aliens. I am not, however, going to discuss this movie because it seems extremely clear-cut: Tombstone + Independence Day = Cowboys and Aliens. I am not passing judgement before I see it because it may seem dumb, but it is new and I have faith in Jon Favreau. I'm just waiting to see if the genres mix like water and oil or water and Crystal Lite.

Other upcoming genre mash-ups include The Myth of the American Sleepover and John Carter. The Myth of the American Sleepover is a neo-John Hughes tale of adolescent trails in love and friendship, although it seems not to have any sing-alongs or adventures through air ducts. Indeed, it seems to capture the Hughes-esque insight into the American teenagers, but apply it to real teenagers -- ones that do not cut school to galavant around Chicago or get picked up in red convertibles. As such, and indieWIRE article called it John Hughes by way of Cashier du Cinema. Sounds good to me.

John Carter is even more puzzling. Like the surge in comic book hero movies, there has also been a surge in movies based on ancient warriors of the Greek or Roman persuasion, starting with Troy and followed by Clash of the Titans, The Prince of Persia (aight, not Greek or Roman, but you get me), and added to by the upcoming Conan the Barbarian and Immortals. So, when I started the John Carter trailer, I was understandably disappointed. You see this guy lying in the desert, then deck out in Spartacus-type clothes (so very little clothes). But then, this poignant bluesy music chimes in. It seems that there are aspects of time and/or dimension travel with Conan-type heroism and alien activity somewhere in there. To say I am intrigued is an understatement. I don't think I have seen so many genres mixed since Star Wars, and I think its very interesting that they made this movie (with was based on a book) in the midst of the hero-with-sword cycle.

The final film I want to talk about is Takers, the film that started this whole thing. CAUTION: SPOILERS. So, you may remember Takers; you may not. It was that heist film with Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Jay Hernandez, Zoe Saldana, that girlfriend-beater, that singer, and that guy with the amazing eyes. Anyway, pretty awesome cast, so why don't you remember it? Because it was a bona fide genre mash-up and, by the end, you're like WTF was that?! It was, first and foremost a heist film. It goes how many heist films go -- successful heist, unwelcomed crew member returns, greed, unsuccessful heist, sadness. In heist films, we expect to see some creative crime, and a variety of face coverings (president masks, nun masks, ski masks, etc), but bank robbers and the like are supposed to be the good criminals, so there is seldom outright brutal violence.

And yet, it did have violence, in a very action movie sort of a way. By that, I mean that there are random fighting scenes after which you say "that could have been solved by talking calmly." There are also hints of a buddy cop movie, since much of the film is devoted to the cops investigating the robberies, which is odd becasue the cops actually knew very little about the criminals and vice versa, so there was no Pacino/DeNiro frenemy situation like in Heat, just a good cop/bad cop team dealing with their own personal crap whilst in the middle of an investigation.

Finally, and this is the oddest part, the last genre added to Takers was one seldom used in films -- that of the Greek Tragedy. I comes out of no where. Of course, the seeds of hubris are there early, but still the extent of WTFness is unexpected. One guy betrays all the others, killing another in the crossfire. Then the two brothers -- GF Beater and Green Eyes -- return to their nightclub only to find it sacked and Green Eyes' girlfriend shot for no reason other than to hurt him. Finally they vow that they would never go back to jail and run out of the club and are riddled with police bullets. Of the remaining two, one is shot and the other is driving him to the airport, though we are left to wonder how two fugitives, one bleeding on the car seat would get through security. Little did they know that the brothers would not make the rendezvous. So no one -- not even the cops -- comes out alive and well. Tragedy.

Though they may be confusing and cumbersome, genre mash-ups can also be very interesting and compelling. Some of them work well; others flounder. But it's always a respectable attempt at trying something new. Perhaps this is that answer to the doldrums of modern Hollywood. At any rate, I greatly anticipate the new mash-ups the summer has to offer.

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