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September 10, 2016

Thoughts About "The Nice Guys" and Movies That Push Corporate and Government Conspiracy Plots

First, I can't find evidence of this, but it hit me, after watching The Nice Guys, that the film probably began its life as a sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The Crowe character is just a slightly rewritten Val Kilmer character. The little girl? Take away her main attribute (her youth) and she could just be a disguised Michelle Monaghan, who was, like the little girl in the Nice Guys, a better detective than Robert Downey Jr.

And the Gosling character is not even a rewrite of the RDJr. character. It's just the RDJr. character.

Imma guess that this movie was intended as a sequel to KKBB, but then Iron Man happened, and Robert Downey Jr. got too expensive, and so they rewrote it a little bit and stuck it in the 70s.

Looking for the background on the KKBB and TNG scripts, I came across this interesting article at ScreenCrush.

Yesterday, in the comments, I said something like "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang followed the plot of every Chandler mystery, where there are two mysteries, one seemingly big and important, the other small and unimportant, but it turns out the big one is unimportant and the small one is important."

Well that's true, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang did use quotes and book titles from Chandler (one section is called "The Little Sister"), but apparently Shane Black is using the books of the lesser-known pulp writer Brett Halliday as his actual inspiration.

Apparently, he raids these books for clues, and both Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys lifted clues from Brett Halliday books, but he paid the estate for them, and Halliday is "acknowledged" at the end of both.

One of the bits I thought that was clever and new in The Nice Guys was in fact a lifted plot point from a Hallilday book called "Blue Murder." I'm not sure what the clue he borrowed for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was. But he took it from "Bodies Are Where You Find Them." (Now there's a pulp mystery title for you.)

I don't know if Halliday imitated Chandler or the other way around. Chandler has been widely imitated since he wrote -- but before he started writing, at the late age of 29*, he was a big reader of Black Mask and other pulp fiction mags, and learned how to write mysteries by reading other mystery writers (especially Dashiel Hammett).

I'm going to grab a Halliday book on Kindle to see if he's worth it.

I also mentioned that all Shane Black stories are about conspiracies, either:

1. A giant corporate conspiracy, or

2. A conspiracy by military industrial complex faking a terrorist attack to get funding for counter-terrorism operations

The latter one he did in The Long Kiss Goodnight and Iron Man 3. The first one he's done in The Last Boy Scout and The Nice Guys.

He explains this in the ScreenCrush article, riffing about a plot point in The Long Kiss Goodnight, about the CIA being involved in, or having prior warning, about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

My writing partner at the time was helping me out with research. And he brought me a whole stack of research just about the initial World Trade Center bombing, because it was 1994 and 1995 when we were writing this. í93 is when this first bombing went down.

This is all real. There were actual rumors. To this day they persist, that it was a CIA-abetted operation. And this is the beginning of what came to be known as ďfalse flag.Ē

And you can even see on the description of the clip on the YouTube page that people have taken this up as an example or proof of a conspiracy behind 9/11, which is really interesting.

Yeah, some people have actually approached me online saying that I was aware that 9/11 was coming. And Iím like, ďCome on guys!Ē I mean first off, they donít even know there was a bombing in Ď93.

If they paid more attention to your movies, theyíd know that there are vast conspiracies in almost every single one.

Yeah, something that starts small and escalates.

Are you attracted to conspiracies in real life yourself, or is that just something that makes good drama?

Well thatís the thing. Thatís what people donít get. There were complaining about Iron Man, some of the fans, saying, ďAh, this truther nonsense!Ē And itís like, no, you donít get it. I donít buy into the nonsense, but movies is where you should! The insane conspiracy that you actually think is real, that would make a good movie, because itís not true. And thatís the fun part. But now, as you can see from this clip, what we make up in movies and surmise about, people suddenly latch onto and say ďItís real! Itís out there, theyíre coming to get you.Ē

I believe in conspiracies. I also believe in coincidences. And apparently to these conspiracy theorists, thereís no such thing.

Eh, I kinda buy that. We've actually discussed this (not Black, but corporate/government conspiracies as plot points) a lot of times on this blog.

I always say the same thing: Well, corporations make fantastic villains. Why? Well, they have huge resources, they can plausibly hire all that pricey top-drawer assassin talent movie villains always have, and their size -- an army, basically -- offers the hero a serious challenge.

A more realistic villain -- a crackhead who murders someone for $100 -- may be more frequently encountered in the real world, but he's not the kind of guy you're gonna think is really good opposition for Martin Riggs or John McClane.

The other type of villain people frequently mention as a villain that should be used, but isn't, is a terrorist organization.

There's the obvious PC aversion to that, of course. Much more PC to make the "terrorists" really white guys who just want to boost military funding.

But the other real drawback is this -- how does the hero encounter Islamic terrorists in a social setting? That's kind of a standard trope in most thrillers, the hostile encounter which actually isn't violent (though there's usually the suggestion it could turn violent).

Bond facing down Largo in Baccarat; even McClane got to face down Hans, in the guise of "Bill Clay," in Die Hard.

I'm not exactly sure how you'd set it up so that a hero in a movie would encounter a bunch of crazed murder cultists in a social setting.

I'm not sure how interesting a conversation would be between a hero and guys who just say "Alluha Akbar."

I'm not saying you couldn't make a movie with terrorists as villains -- "The Kingdom" did it. True Lies did it.

But where there's no chance of social interaction or infiltration (and how does John McClane infiltrate a mosque?), then you're really not dealing with a thriller or action movie, which is kind of a war movie set in civilian territory. When there's no interaction between hero and enemy except that which is conveyed by gunfire -- that's a straight war movie, or commando movie. It's just not an action thriller.

Anyway, I get why the Evil Corporation is such a frequently used trope.

My objection isn't about Evil Corporations, which I'll accept as the price of seeing a movie in which the hero is up against a powerful adversary with lots of armed security personnel he can machinegun and grenade his way through.

My objection comes when movies -- and Black's keep doing this -- give soft comfort to Truthers and jihadis by claiming they're right, the government really is faking terrorism and pinning it on innocent Muslims.

I wouldn't mind that plot except that so many actually believe this premise and except that we are currently in a war with a major propaganda front in which nonsense like this can actually have battlefield effects.

I didn't mind the Truther plot of The Long Kiss Goodbye, because the WTC bombing seemed like an incompetent, botched attack by a bunch of idiots that was frightening, but not likely to lead to anything too much worse.

Byt after 9/11, after ISIS -- now that we know exactly how murderous and how effective these subhuman savages can be -- I don't see how one pushes this line as a plot.

Moviemakers routinely refuse to do plots they think will have some postulated dire social effect -- no one would do a Death Wish today. Too many minorities being shot by a white guy empowered by a gun -- it could inspire a white right-wing racial avenger.

Okay, I get that. Understandable enough. People copy things they see in movies. Not often, but it happens enough that one might be a bit alarmed by the thought of it.

But then why is okay to push the cherished Islamist line that they have struck a mighty blow against the West, and simultaneously that they had nothing to do with it, it was all just a trick of the American government and of course the Jews?

I agree with Black that it's fun to toy with the idea of conspiracies as real in movies. Capricorn One-- a movie about Moon Landing Conspiracy paranoia. (Yes, it was about a faked Mars landing, but it was playing on Moon paranoia.) Fun. Parallax View -- JFK/RFK/MLK assassination conspiracy paranoia. Good movie.

12 Monkeys -- one of my favorites. Postulates, basically, that every schizophrenic's beliefs about hearing voices in his head are true. (Maybe slightly evil, though: I wonder if psychiatrists encounter resistance from patients who cite 12 Monkeys as evidence the voices are real.)

Obviously the X-Files did a lot with UFO cover-up conspiracies.

But you know, I don't think I'd do a movie where conspiracy theories about the Holocaust being Faked by Jews turned out to be true.

Seems to me that would have some rather awful real-world consequences. That it would give sooth and succor to all the wrong people.

And for similar reasons, I wouldn't push Islamist Victimization narratives as movie plots either.

* Oh I think he didn't start writing until his mid-40s or something. Eh, I make that mistake all the time.


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posted by Ace at 05:53 PM

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