Litmus Test

First of all, never be stupid enough to use a litmus test for the people in your life. I know you wouldn’t cross the street to spit on a member of the opposing political party if their guts were on fire, but try to remember this: There are republicans who are pro-choice and there are democrats who are pro-gun. A litmus test is a reductive tool that diminishes the complexity of all people to whom it’s applied.

Now, having said that, let me expound on my litmus test. It consists of just two movies: Big Trouble In Little China and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Why these two? Why not Belle de Jour or The Bride Wore Black or Once Upon A Time In The West?

I realize I’m verging on losing much of my copious hipster street cred here, but as mannered and explosive as those (and other) films are, none of them show the obsessive attention to detail and the wacky disregard for suspension of disbelief as my two litmus films.

These are movies that present the viewer with unbelievable worlds without a shred of backstory and simply say, “Deal with it. Chinese Magic is real. Guys ride lightning bolts and sometimes the sidekick is the hero and the hero is just a blowhard with lipstick smudged on his face.”

Or in the case of Scott Pilgrim, life is just a video game in which we play video games and everyone is super good at karate. And Edgar Wright put every single frame of this movie together with the single-minded, anal-retentiveness of Wes Anderson on a three week coke bender. You can watch it over and over again and always come up with something new to appreciate.

Plus, Knives Chau, a largely secondary character, is given the screen’s most legendary meltdown while dying half her hair blue. Oh, and the most vicious UFC-style take-down of vegan supremacy culture ever committed to 1’s and 0’s – I was going to say “committed to film” but I’m not sure anyone but Tarantino uses film anymore.

As a litmus test, these two movies tell me one critical thing about a person. If they don’t like them, if they don’t “get” them, they’re telling me that they watch movies, they don’t consume them. They’ve never listened to a commentary track or bored the shit out of everyone at the Thanksgiving table by rambling on and on about their theory about how James Bond is actually a robot.

And that’s not a bad thing. Like I said, litmus tests are mostly useless in actually judging someone’s character but if you throw a Big Trouble or a Scott Pilgrim at them and it bounces off, you know not to proceed with your dissection of why Kick-Ass 1 was so much better than the comic book and why Kick-Ass 2, which followed the comics more religiously, sucked an open sewer grate.

Them: “Big Trouble? The one with Tim Allen?”

You: “Big Trouble In Little China. With Kurt Russell.”

Them: “Oh, yeah. I didn’t really get it.”

You: “How about them Cowboys?”

That’s how you use a litmus test.


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