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This week:
City of Ember

Filthy says:
"It's the end of the world, and it's, eh, not so bad."

Have you ever noticed that in the movies kids are altruistic little fuckers who try to fix the shit adults screw up? Little shits stop wars, save parents and patch up rocky relationships. By the time kids in the movies get to college age they're self-absorbed pricks who only want to hump something. The adults then fuck the world up so the kids can save it again. What Hollywood's trying to tell us, I guess, is that if we want the world to be a better place, everyone needs to drop out of school after sixth grade. Or maybe we need to pull a Logan's Run, but not wait until people are thirty. Kill them at the first sign of puberty.

Anywhere outside the Denver Public School system, though, being a dropout is socially unacceptable. Society expects you to be some sort of fucking egghead who went to high school and at least passed a couple grades. You pretty much have to have at least a GED to get the cherry jobs like cashier at Costco. And what's all this compulsory education gotten us? A whole lot of assholes, is what. Fuckwads looking for love and a nice car and a house they can't afford. Pricks with no interest in saving the world unless they can be Joseph Campbell's reluctant hero, and get to hump somebody for saving the world.

The good news is that while I've got a high school diploma and even took some classes at the junior college, I'm an idiot. I've never thought of myself as being smarter than a sixth grader. In fact, judging from how often the little jerks from Arvada Middle School trick me out of my beer money, I'm way more stupid. I guess I'm well positioned to save the world. I just wish there were some sort of huge crisis that needed me. You know, some sort of global fuck up that I can fix with a little gum, twine, pluck and naivete. Then those little pricks would leave me alone, or at least leave me enough for a forty of some Steel Reserve High Gravity Lager.

Believe me, after you get the shit kicked out of you by kids you really need a drink. And they make fun of my shirts, too, just because Mrs. Filthy is on a money-saving spree and has been getting creative with the discarded Calico prints down at Hancock Fabric. I don't know, I sort of like the shirts, especially the powder blue one with the kittens chasing the ball of yarns around in squares. It makes me feel sort of tough.

To get back on the subject, kids always save the world in movies. City of Ember is no different. It's about two kids who get the gumption to save their society from obsolescence. For some unexplained reason, although I'm guessing the Harelip's genital warts started really spreading, humanity is crumbling and the last survivors got sequestered underground in a city illuminated by thousands of big sulfur bulbs for over 200 years. There was a plan for the survivors to return to the earth's surface, but it got lost, and the people remain in their subterranean village.

Now, the people have overstayed the length of time the city was planned for. It is beginning to crumble, the food supply is almost exhausted, the generator that powers everything is breaking down, and the clothes, apartments, furniture and pipes are getting pretty ratty. Most of the citizens worry about dying once the generator does fail for good, with their society panicking and all decency disappearing in the pitch darkness. It reminds me of the terrifying and bleak night the power went out at the Tavern and some asshole ran about shoving its tongue into everyone's mouth. I'm not gonna point fingers, but let's just say I had gum when the power crashed, and Worm had gum when it came back on. Much like those of us there that awful night, the people in City of Ember dread what's coming but feel powerless to stop it. They comfort themselves with routine and blind faith in their mayor (Bill Murray), rather than wonder how to escape impending doom.

Enter two plucky youngsters (Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan). They are restless and idealistic, apparently not yet ground down to nubbins by the dull routine of the city. Ronan finds the lost plans for returning to the surface. She and Treadaway devise a plan to follow the people back to natural light, trees, oceans and, presumably, donuts and Slurpees.

The journey the two upstarts take once they have the plans is disappointingly straightforward. They get the plans, they enact the plans with little resistance, and the plans succeed. Being straightforward's a pretty fucking big problem for a movie. It doesn't give you much tension. There are no reversals of fortune that force the kids to use their brains to come up with new ideas. There are no bad guys in their way. Murray ,the sad and slimy mayor, has his own bunker full of the city's best remaining food. While he claims to care about the people, he's mostly looking out for ol' Number One. He's supposed to be the villain, yet nowhere in the movie do they suggest he would be opposed to escaping, or to someone showing him how.

Ronan and Treadaway are about as generic as the sodas you can buy for a quarter outside WalMart. They're bubbly and sweet, but damned if I could tell what made their characters unique. Ronan likes to run fast. Treadway, well, fuck it, he's just there. the two don't have any romantic interest in each other. That's fine. But they are hardly friends, either, and they don't really grow through the process of finding an escape. They just bop along, like someone doing a connect-the-dots.

Secondary characters, such as Tim Robbins as Treadaway's dad, are as uninteresting. Ronan has a little sister who says nothing and a dying grandmother, but neither adds much. Actually, they feel like characters who may have once had interesting subplots, but the subplots got edited down to shit. There is also a giant beetle stag found early in the movie that just never gets explained. A few characters make a big deal out of it, and someone asks why it's so fucking huge. The movie gives no answer, and our intrepid heros aren't scared for a moment how many there may be beyond their city, and whether they'll get eaten by them. Oh, there's also a giant mole that could, apparently, kill everyone anytime it wants. Its appetite, though, is just to eat what is convenient to the plot.

City of Ember looks pretty fucking fantastic, though. Director Gil Kenan does a bang up job making an underground city that looks a lot like Brazil. It's interesting to me that dystopian settings are always crumbling art deco. Is this some sort of suggestion that society peaked in the 40s and 50s and has been in decline since? Are we slowly using up all the goodness that was created before we were born? Anyway, Kenan's details make the city feel very much like a dying civilization would. Everything has been patched as much as it will allow. Clothes have been repurposed until they are just patchwork quilts. Furniture is falling apart, the buildings sag and creak, the pipes leak but can only be patched instead of replaced.

Another problem with City of Ember is that it's the most pointless movie about a dystopian world of complacent workers as has ever been made. Brave New World, 1984 and even Candy Bottoms' XXX classic Anal Anthem, an adaptation of some Ayn Rand novel, have a point. They are al trying to say something about society, our place in it, and the cost of complacency and allowing government to control us. Maybe the young adult novel that City is an introduction for kids to the world of insignificance and disappointment that awaits them. If it is, the movie completely ignores the message and just delivers a tepid action flick with go-get-'em kids in a fabulous setting.

It's a damn shame, really. Kids need to know they never get to save the world like the movies show. I should know, I ain't a kid anymore and I'm still waiting for my chance. Two Fingers for City of Ember.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Ain't It Cool News

An American Carol is "The ingenious and inspired comedy that we remember from Airplane!"

City of Ember: "I want to see more movies like this! A lot more movies like this!"

Filthy's Reading
Jeanne Duprau - City of Ember

Listening to
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Now I Got Worry


Babe: Pig in the City