Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Hard Working

By Hadley Hury

OCTOBER 12, 1998:  Antz, from DreamWorks pictures (a.k.a. Spielberg, Katzenburg, and Geffen, Inc.) is a benignly entertaining, computer-animated cartoon. Its paean to individualism over conformity may be just a bit too juvenile for adults and a bit too droll for children; a project like Antz at least makes a good-faith effort to target some middle ground.

Younger viewers – ages 6 through 10 might be the most likely audiences – will enjoy the story of Z, a hapless worker ant (voiced by Woody Allen) who achieves heroic insect proportions through his determination to be true to himself rather than a conforming, complacent participant in herd (or, rather, in this case, colony) mentality. His picaresque adventures include a traditional array of folkloric elements – going to war (against an army of termites); proving his friendship for a good-hearted, slow-witted co-worker (the voice of Sylvester Stallone, which seems surprisingly gentle in this disembodied state); running away with a princess (a vocally typecast Sharon Stone, curt and smart-alecky); and embarking on a quest for a legendary paradise (which, in this world would, of course, be Insectopia). The other all-star voices in Antz are Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, Danny Glover, and Dan Aykroyd.

More mature members of the audience can amuse themselves with some of the more sophisticated animation sequences and with watching how the film’s creators have cannily utilized these well-known actors’ voices to inform the ants’ characterizations and to produce some sly double-entendres of both voice and persona.


Strangeland

One of the promo lines (taken from an article in Fangoria magazine) for Strangeland – which stars rock group Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, who also wrote the film – reads: “Dee Snider is a horror icon for the next millennium.”

Forget the next millennium. Let’s reflect for a moment on how we have come to this moment in our cultural history when even a tacky gore-movie rag might use the term iconographic to describe this one-man show that opened last weekend at multiplexes across the country. Snider plays a twisted sister, indeed, a predatory sadomasochist who finds his victims in Internet chat rooms. He preys particularly on teenagers who, faced with the temporary but dire crises of their age, are vulnerable to his smooth-talking empathy and invitation to adventure. He arranges meetings, then kidnaps and imprisons them in the basement of his dilapidated house where he tortures them.

Other than a cursory nod toward dramatic development in including among the victims the daughter of the small town’s chief detective, there is virtually no story line. Snider’s dialogue is almost a parody of banality, and director John Pieplow’s filmic sense is crude and uninvolving. But for the only discernible purposes of this product, these considerations don’t matter. Who cares if Strangeland merely marks time, palpably holding its breath, between the excruciating scenes of sadistic torture? These extremely graphic and loathsome scenes are precisely why it was made and that’s what it’s selling, and the primary question we may need to consider is Who is going to see this stuff? (That the film is rated “R,” meaning that anyone 16 or younger must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian, somehow offers little comfort.)

Those viewers who are passionate about First Amendment rights and take the threat of arts censorship seriously would recognize in Strangeland a casebook example of how our popular culture (sic) fuels the flames for censorship proponents. Do we have films that rile the far right because of their compelling treatment of serious social issues? Almost never. Do we have films that seriously examine crucial themes in government, public policy, international relations, or technology? No. Do we even have films with searching, intelligent scripts and richly conceived roles for good actors to bring to life that help us confront the fundamentals of what it means to be human? Rarely. Thus, the defense of intellectual, spiritual and artistic freedom of expression is debased and we find ourselves fighting culture wars over a movie in which the most consciously seductive camera shots are of young people (mostly female) screaming and pleading helplessly, writhing in chains, being tortured – pierced with spikes, tugged with meat hooks, hanging in metal frames with their flesh cats-cradled with taut cords and needles. Or, rather, one side of the culture wars stays home, while the other relishes yet another prime opportunity to rattle its moral broadsword, confuse the issues, and say See? We told you so. The print ad campaign features the face of a girl with her mouth sewn together with black catgut, over the tag line “Wanna come to a party?”

Perhaps the sickest irony of all in regards to a film like this that peddles psychic and physical violence is that some of its most impressionable viewers will be those young people who have been nurtured on social fear and hatred and the sort of pseudo-moral insularity and religious fanaticism which, in so many cases, ends in extreme rebellion and a glorification of the dark side.


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