Tuesday, February 20, 2018

it’s a trap!

I like the ewoks. I always liked the ewoks. Let us just get that out right away. I was seven when Return of the Jedi came out, and barring false memories, I even remember going to see it at the theater at the mall in Eagle Rock. I had already seen the prior two films more than a few times. I had behind-the-scenes books, comics, storybooks, activity books... These (among others):

And, action figures. Lots of action figures. More from Return of the Jedi than from the previous two films combined, probably. Because, I bought a lot of action figures later at yard sales and flea markets, I am not entirely clear on just how many action figures I had at any given time. I know that I never owned an X-Wing (until just a handful of years ago when I invested in the tabletop game Star Wars: X-Wing, which is awesome, by the way), I didn't have an AT-AT until the mid- to late-80s, and it was missing the side door and the electronic bits. I had Jabba and his throne, and I think I might even still have the Salicious Crumb that came with it in a box somewhere. But, I never had the slave Leia figure--and instead had to hook the collar onto Bespin Leia--until the Power of the Force figure in the 90s. At that point, new figures stayed in the package and hung on my wall. In 1983, though, I played with all my action figures all the time.

Including the members of the Max Rebo Band--which, by the way, Sy Snootles is a much better performer than whoever was singing in the Special Edition. There was a time that I obsessed about Star Wars stuff, those Special Editions sort of started the end of that, so I actually don't know the names of the new members of the big-band swing-style Max Rebo Band. They were in 1983 (or, rather, a long time before that, in a galaxy far far away) Max Rebo, Droppy McCool and Sy Snootles.

And, weird thought in passing: it might actually be perfectly legal by local Tatooine law for Jabba to take Leia as his slave, and Chewbacca and Han as his prisoners, and even to drop Luke into the Rancor's pit--and the Rancor is still awesome (I'm watching a VHS from before the Special Edition same as the prior two, by the way, in case you have not been keeping up with this blog). I mean, Luke and his entourage are the interlopers. And really, since Luke grew up there, he should know better. Or he knows full well how awful Jabba is as a local mob boss/warlord...

And now I'm imagining the revolution that takes place on Tatooine in the power vacuum created by Jabba's death, and I kinda want to see that movie.

And, now the Emperor is on screen and I am tempted to complain that we don't know enough about his backstory like some clever nerds did back in December after some less-clever nerds complained about Snoke not having a backstory in the latest Star Wars...

And, mid-sentence there, I got distracted watching the movie






and talking with my son about stuff like how Frank Oz deserves a lifetime achievement award, because Yoda's death scene is great.

And then, the film kept playing, and I kept forgetting to say things.

Which is how it goes with these films. Either I start digging to find what is wrong with them, like how did this movie warp my young mind all those years ago. Or, I get involved all rose-colored lens style and forget why I'm sitting on the floor with my iPad in front of me.

Regardless of which of these old movies I'm watching, by the way. Not just Return of the Jedi. Though I know damn well how Return of the Jedi damaged me when I was young. It fueled my obsession with movies and with fantasy, because compared to so many other movies grounded in everyday reality, this one (and the previous two) was telling me that the sky was a limit (or maybe there was no limit). I've cited Roger Ebert's review of the Star Wars Special Edition before, but not this bit:

The film philosophies that will live forever are the simplest-seeming ones. They may have profound depths, but their surfaces are as clear to an audience as a beloved old story. The way I know this is because the stories that seem immortal--"The Odyssey," "Don Quixote," "David Copperfield," "Huckleberry Finn"--are all the same: A brave but flawed hero, a quest, colorful people and places, sidekicks, the discovery of life's underlying truths.

It's a nice line except, I'm not sure anyone in Star Wars "discovers" life's underlying truths. The film may play on some themes universal like underlying truths, but it's not about the discovery thereof. Also, in a prior part of his review, Roger calls the film science fiction. So, as much as I like the guy, he cannot be completely trusted.

Still, the Star Wars trilogy offers up a fantasy for anyone, especially a kid like I was. You could play at being Han, play at being Luke, play at being Leia, play at being Lando, or even play at being Vader, because someone has to be the antagonist. You can fly spaceships, duel with lightsabers, meet fascinating creatures and maybe have to kill them, overthrow local and galactic governments. Or you can make good friends that will probably last you a lifetime. Or, all of the above.

The big screen in a darkened theater, the bigger screen in the dark of your mind. The sky was the limit.

Monday, February 19, 2018

mr. bond is indeed of a very rare breed... soon to be made extinct

Shall we talk about Never Say Never Again?

Or shall I ignore Octopussy, playing now, to talk about the four other movies I watched today to finish off this year's Oscar nominated films, with a couple weeks to spare? Because, I totally did that. An extra day off, and this week is speech week in my classes, so I've got nothing to prep, so I ignored the olympics for today, ignored any Dungeons & Dragons planning I might need to make soon, and turned on three documentaries (Last Men in Aleppo, Icarus, Strong Island) and one foreign language film (On Body and Soul) (all conveniently on Netflix, hence putting them off to the end).

But, how about that Never Say Never Again? Actually, I don't intend to talk about the film itself. I think I only ever saw it all the way through the one time, in the theater. I was seven, mind you, and I knew about the copyright issues that led to there being two different James Bond films in the same year. Never Say Never Again and Octopussy. I wrote before about how Roger Moore was reluctant to play Bond a fifth time in For Your Eyes Only, and how Timothy Dalton had been (sort of) offered the part more than once before he would eventually get it. After For Your Eyes Only, Moore was again going to opt out. But, then Kevin McClory had retained the film rights for the novel Thunderball (already made into a. Bond film previously), and so a new adaptation (of a sort) of Thunderball went into production, and they had Sean Connery back even though he hadn't been in a Bond film for over a decade. So, the new Bond film being produced by Eon Productions couldn't afford to deal with introducing a brand new Bond and compete with an older one, so they got Moore back again (and I haven't even checked what got him roped in one more time with A View to a Kill).

All I knew, at the time, was that for some reason someone had separate film rights for Thunderball. What I didn't know were some of the specifics. Basically, McClory was hired in 1958 to write the feature film debut Bond film called Longitude 78 West. A few drafts and then financial problems got in the way. Cubby Broccoli got the film rights to the Bond novels and Eon Productions' first Bond film was Dr. No in 1962. Thing is, Bond's creator Ian Fleming used the Longitude 78 West script as the basis for a new Bond novel--Thunderball. McClory sued, because he had created elements of that story himself. McClory would get a producer credit on the eventual Thunderball film and retain the right to use his ideas from it in his own film after ten years had passed. McClory started announcing his competing Bond film in the 70s, "with titles like James Bond of the Secret Service and Warhead". Financial problems kept these from happening.Keith Abt, writing for Reel Rundown suggests that since "Connery's relationship with Broocoli and [Harry] Saltzman had been rocky throughout his years as Bond... One had to wonder if his agreeing [finally] to take part in a competing production was his subtle way of thumbing his nose at his old bosses." Connery coming on meant McClory's film would finally happen, and the world would get two different Bond films in 1983--one that acknowledged Bond as an aging hero, one that absolutely should have because there is no way Roger Moore should be hooking up with women as fast as he does anymore... To be fair, Magda (Kristina Wayborn) only goes to bed with him to steal the egg, but what is Octavia's excuse? (And, for the record, though I didn't say it yesterday, I know Kamal was deliberately acting against his Octavia's interests, it's just to fucking obvious, it's rather lazy filmmaking.) Anyway, "Connery was given input into the film's script and casting to sweeten the deal, and once he came into the picture the project finally found sufficient financing through a consortium of independent European production companies."

That last bit sounds like it's supposed to be strange, and maybe it was back in '83. But, look at any opening credits today and you'll likely see, especially on films out of Europe, half a dozen production companies at least, and I swear one I saw recently had close to 20. More partners, less risk, I assume.

In the 90s, McClory would try to make Thunderball again, calling it Warhead 2000 A.D. and intending for Timothy Dalton, who had just finished his Bond films for Eon, to star. He would try again in 1998, with Connery returning for Doomsday 2000, which would have competed with the Pierce Brosnan starring The World Is Not Enough. Christian Long, writing for Uproxx, says of this, "One thing you could say about [McClory], he was certainly persistent." In 2006, after McClory died, his family sold his rights back, and all the Bond films were together finally.

Meanwhile, Octopussy is about a rogue Russian general who wants to start World War III by setting off a nuclear bomb in West Germany without Russia getting the blame for it, which paints him as both devious and cowardly. Never Say Never Again has SPECTRE stealing nuclear weapons. Because it's 1983, nuclear weapons were all the rage.

(Side note: the coy framing to leave Octavia's face off screen when Kamal meets with her is weird. I mean, I know Maud Adams was in a previous Bond film--The Man with the Golden Gun--but putting off the reveal of her face only matters if 1) Hollywood doesn't regularly announce the stars of its film (and her face is on the poster, and was on the 45 we had of "All Time High") or if 2) she was playing the same character and it's a huge shock, but she's not, and it isn't. When you finally see her face, the big shock is those damn cheekbones, because those things look dangerous. But, anyway...)

And then, flash forward a good 35 years or so, and two of the documentaries I watched today (Last Men in Aleppo and Icarus) are about how awful Russia can be, in two very different ways--respectively, bombing civilians in Syria and cheating in the olympics for decades. But hey, at least we aren't afraid of them blowing us up with nuclear weapons anymore. We've got North Korea for that now. Although, Russian hackers could totally be a subplot of a new Bond film today, if we wanted to bring back big bad Russia.

But still have Octavia and her all-female fighting force, because that would fit into the present zeitgeist pretty well.

Also, bring back Grace Jones. Or just crossover a new Bond film with Black Panther because that South Korea sequence and all of Shuri's gadgets would fit the Bond universe pretty well.

Or just stop making James Bond films, stop pretending that one hypermasculine, superintelligent, multi-skilled secret agent can save the world time and time again, because if it were that easy, the world would not have so many problems.

Unless Bond is literally the only agent this capable...

But, I write that as he rather stupidly scares the guys who think he's a corpse in a body bag when he should know damn well that they drove about 5 seconds outside the property and there are no doubt people watching. I mean, surely, James Bond can survive getting thrown down a hill onto some bones and left for dead. And, you know, not immediately getting everybody nearby to hunt him. But, at least he gets to tell a tiger to sit, which is silly, and yell like Tarzan, which is dumb. So, he's got that going for him.

All these 80s films with supermen at the center--they're just so painfully obvious about what they're saying, with all their racist under- and overtones, their sexist bullshit, and their constant need to reify and reinforce the patriarchy.

For an audience of seven-years-olds like me.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

sounds like a load of bull

So, Octopussy begins with Bond (Roger Moore, again, and always my baseline for evaluating any Bond) trying to blow up some satellite thingy, failing, and getting away in a plane hidden in a horse trailer (in a sequence that is not nearly as exciting as I remember it being when I was a kid).

And, thinking on what's coming in this film--it has been a while since I've watched it--it's occurred to me, because sometimes I can't quite put my finger on what these old movies put into my head all those years ago, that--and maybe this is odd since I was just seven when this film came out--that this is where I first heard of Faberge eggs, and when I was an undergrad history major, I took a few Russia-specific history classes and even did some research into Faberge eggs and how much they cost to own, what makes each one unique, stuff like that.

(Now, two things occur to me: 1) that was a really long and convoluted sentence. I apologize. 2) Writing that just now, it occurred to me that it might have been Arthur that got me interested in owning a Duesenberg if I was ever rich... But then I doublechecked to see if Arthur even had one of those, and he didn't. And I got to wondering where some odd specific interests of mine come from, if maybe they all come from movies. But then I had to wonder what strange interests I have that don't come from somewhere else obvious.






I decided that I am not actually that eccentric in my interests, as it turns out.

Then I get to looking at the trivia section on IMDb (as one does), and I realize just how many sequences in this Bond film were intended for other ones, how interchangeable the puzzle pieces of these things are. And, I learn as well that there were numerous British productions that filmed in India in the early 80s (Gandhi, Heat and Dust, The Far Pavilions, A Passage to India, The Jewel in the Crown) and then I get distracted thinking about Richard Nowel's Blood Money and the way slasher films followed specific trends, and as old familiar scenes played out on the screen before me, I'm thinking about trends I might never have noticed as a kid. Buddy cop movies, specifically with one white guy and one black, for example--that would be obvious even to a kid. Movies aping Star Wars or The Road Warrior. Or Conan. Or E.T..

I did see E.T. and other obvious movies in the theater by the way. Also saw a lot of movies on VHS through the 80s. But, they don't all fit the current phase of this blog, because, even if we owned a copy of a film (we owned a copy of E.T., for example) that didn't mean that we watched it regularly.

For the record, backtracking to 1982 for a moment, out of the top ten movies at the box office, I saw at least 6 of them on the big screen, saw a couple more on video, the rest on cable or regular tv within a few years. Looking down at the next ten, I only saw one of those (The Toy) on the big screen, and I remember specifically not getting to see Firefox, pretty sure because I was sick, when my family went to a double feature of that and The Thing.

Looking at 1981, I saw 8 of the top ten films on the big screen. 1980, 3.)

And, I'm going backward rather than write about Octopussy.

Like for example, as with any Bond, there are sequences that don't make sense. Here, Octavia (Maud Adams as the titular Octopussy) has specifically ordered Kamal (Louis Jourdan) to bring Bond to her. Instead, he takes Bond as prisoner (sort of), then hunts him when he escapes. She wants to meet Bond but he has to sneak into her place.

She invites him to stay at her place while she goes to Europe for a week, there's some disagreement about something or other, then Bond forces himself on her and--because he's James Bond--that's okay.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

it’s my privilege; this is america

What's the point of Kiss Me Goodbye? I mean, sure, it's entertaining. Sure, it deals (quite shallowly) in themes of love and loss and moving on--

The first thing we hear in the film is the song "But It's a Nice Dream" which includes the following lyrics:

We'll go away
Make love all day
You'll never stay
But it's a nice dream

Just me for you
Our whole life through
It won't come true
But it's a nice dream


I'm sorry that it went so fast
Our future has become our past
Too good we couldn't last

And our first images of Jolly are flashbacks and his painting, which is him from behind, looking over his shoulder. And, something I never got as a kid is that Jolly it just there to help Kay move on. As a kid, I always thought he showed up simply because she moved back into their townhouse, and the timing with her upcoming wedding was a coincidence.

I probably figured out otherwise somewhere since, but I remember the film being more silly when I was young. Like, oh there's a ghost of her ex husband, now we laugh. The movie has more serious things to talk about, though but it tries to do both and ends up a mixed tonal bag.

Since I had a problem as a kid planning ahead for the future, I wonder what this film's notion of moving on meant to me. Or if I even thought about it.

White people problems. Which guy should Kay choose? The dead ex who is only good for a conversation. Or the nice guy who puts up with your crap a bit more than he probably should.

This isn't a movie about big ideas, or about big problems. It's just these few people, in this particular moment in their well-to-do lives.

Friday, February 16, 2018

don’t scare me like that, colonizer

Sometimes, I see a new movie and I wish I dealt in something more like reviews. Less of this unstructured discussion. This afternoon I saw Black Panther and I wanted to come home and fashion a brilliant review that celebrated the statement the film makes for Africans and African-Americans, and indicted white folks for, well, all of the shit they've done and do, and for their paranoia regarding Black Panther itself. I saw a post this morning--on Twitter I think... Nevermind the vagueness; I looked it up to check. It was the Twitter handle The Trump Train. They posted this:

It's very fitting that the same people who claim to support equality and diversity also glorify a movie that idolizes black supremacy and establishing a black-only ethnostate.

There was also a line about liberals and hypocrisy but it's that bit about Black Panther that gets me. Even before I saw the movie, and before I saw replies on Twitter confirming it, I knew that Black Panther is quite explicitly about the opposite of what The Trump Train is suggesting. But, you know, nevermind the truth, or actually seeing a film before you pronounce its message. There is no "black supremacy" at play in Black Panther quite simply because the film takes place in Africa, in an African nation full of black people. The only "supremacy" comes from that basic fact that the biggest fantasy of Wakanda is that it survived European colonization of Africa and has actually retained its identity and not been devastated by the slave trade or colonial oppression or even an invasion of Abrahamic religion. Like the basic gist of the phrase "black lives matter" there is no suggestion in Black Panther that somehow these Africans need to rule the world. In fact, at best, that is the notion of the film's villain, and even that not quite.

(My favorite part of the film--and here, we get into SPOILERS--is that the central villain is not really wrong, it is just his immediate approach that is problematic.)

And, there is no "establishing a black-only ethnostate"; rather, in case white folks missed it, Africa used to be full of places one might call black-only ethnostates. But then, we moved in on them, picked them apart, sold their people, stole their resources, and devoured their spirits and their souls.

But, the white supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy is quite easily frightened. Celebrate people of color for even a moment and, of course, you're promoting the destruction of the powers that be, you're idolize get black (or Hispanic, or whatever) supremacy, and you're supporting the establishment of a black (or what have you)-only ethnostate. Because, it's all black and white (metaphorically and literally), a zero-sum game, with us or against us, us against them, and all the obvious bullshit that comes with that.

In Black Panther you have, on less of a statement level, a good Marvel film. It's solid enough, it offers depth of character even to numerous smaller parts. Like Rogue One, the film seems to assume that Forest Whitaker can offer depth even if the script doesn't provide him much, and it's wrong about that. Similarly, Angela Bassett's Ramonda (and the other elders in Wakanda) are more abstract presence suggesting a culture that trusts its older members (a theme suggested better by T'Challa's (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik's (Michael B. Jordan) ventures to visit the dead) than real characters. But, then there's Okuye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), Shuri (Letitia Wright), M'Baku (Winston Duke), Ross (Martin Freeman), and even Klaue (Andy Serkis), who are all well-embodied characters with... Well, if not explicit motivations, a definite sense that they have motivation and a reason for being.

You have a plot that is less superhero and more James Bond, but with a clear political and social commentary about the world. And, it fits snugly into the ongoing MCU story as well.

You also have a mainstream film--that will do quite well at the box office--that is not full of white people. Hell, it's not even full of men. While there are men all over in the background, and the leads are male, there are no less than three female roles driving the plot, expressing individual agency, and duty, and coming into conflict with each other and with the men. One film full of black people and some white folks panic. And, honestly, it's a little pathetic. It's also perfectly understandable because when you are raised thinking you matter more than you actually do, of course, you will be taken aback anytime anything shows up that (seemingly) detracts from your power.

Bleeding-heart SJW liberal that I am, here's my thing: white men had their time. If women and people of color (and women of color, because intersectionality matters) are getting a bigger piece of the pie, good for them. We've ruined the world long enough.

Also, it's not a pie, not even metaphorically. It's not a zero-sum game at all. Black lives can matter. Female lives can matter. And, so can everyone else's.

As Jamil Smith points out, in a nice piece for Time--"The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther":

If you are... white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn't something you think about often. Every day, the culture reflects not only you but nearly infinite versions of you--executives, poets, garbage collectors, soldiers, nurses and so on. The world shows you that your possibilities are boundless...

Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted.

Meanwhile, you've got Fox News' Laura Ingraham going after LeBron James, calling him "barely intelligible" and "in-grammatical" then playing a clip where he's rather clear. And, I'm one of those who figures there's good reason for the way she approaches this. Hint: it's racism, whether it's ingrained by our culture or something more nefarious. Her statement made afterward in her defense was basically that she has attacked white people before, too, so she couldn't possibly be racist.

INSERT: Me, rolling my eyes.

As a film, Black Panther is good. It isn't great. As a statement, though, it's powerful. And, I would rather more of us celebrate it than detract it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

it takes all the romance out of it

And then we move on to a romantic comedy--Kiss Me Goodbye--to finish out 1982. Film critic Vincent Canby (who I don't cite nearly often enough) calls Robert Mulligan's direction and Charlie Peter's screenplay both "humorless" but I've always liked it enough... We'll see how it holds up after having not seen if for many years.

If you don't know the film, it's pretty simple. Kay (Sally Field) has moved back into the townhouse she shared with her husband Jolly (James Caan) because she's marrying Rupert (Jeff Bridges), and Jolly's ghost shows up to meddle in her affairs for a bit. Gags ensue. (Canby argues, the film has one joke--Jolly "sti[ting] around mak[ing] snide remarks as Mr. Bridges attempts to make love to the distracted Miss Field.")

The opening scenes (except for Kay's mother (Claire Trevor) asking if a wall has always been there) doesn't play much for laughs. Kay wanders around the house, we see flashes of the past and hear gentle music and images of and items that belonged to Jolly, a Broadway dancer--Caan does his best Gene Kelly impression, basically. Plus, he died there in the house, falling down the stairs during a party celebrating his winning? being nominated for? a Tony.






Well before Jolly actually shows up, we know that Kay's life with Jolly (and with all the performers they knew) still hold a a big seaway over her life. Rupert is jealous and afraid of her life. Still, she asked him to move into the townhouse with her.

We're 23 minutes in before Jolly arrives, tap dancing. Within a couple minutes, Kay and Jolly are arguing like a married couple can.

Field almost didn't get involved with this film--an American remake of a Brazlian comedy from just a few years earlier. "When I read it [the first time]," she tells the Deseret News, "it was in a rough form. I thought it was too silly." A couple years later, she read it again, and

I saw it. Either the script had changed that much or I had changed that much--probably a little bit of each.

You always have to ask twice with me because in the morning I'm one person and in the afternoon I'm another. In the first draft of the script, it was simply silly to me and I couldn't find a way to make it realistic.

Making it realistic became the challenge...

...The movie that we wanted to make was a highly sophisticated comedy with a baseline level of reality--not a hard-hitting message but something that people can identify with.

What they made is a movie that trades in silly joke moments like Jolly interrupting Kay and Rupert having sex, or the three of them taking a roadtrip together, and more serious, thoughtful bits like Kay telling Jolly about how she grieved three years ago.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

don’t you just love love?

I was... am tempted to keep today's entry short, to say something simple and cheesy about love. I told my daughter Saer this and she took my keyboard and wrote the following:

Happy Valentines Day to my beautiful readers! I can't find the words to properly express how much I love you all for the support you show by reading this blog. But I guess that's what Valentine's Day is all about--love. And the world needs more of it. I'd hug all my readers if it were possible but it is not, and it's sad so *cyber hugs* LOVE.

I was going to go with something shorter. Like love is love.

Whether or not you want to believe that Alvie and Boots are gay, there is definitely love between them, and they definitely play well at being domestic, at being parents. And, if you watch this movie and don't feel some empathy and love for both of them and for Savannah, you have no heart.

Watching this as a kid--and remember that when this movie came out I was a year younger than Savannah (though I don't actually recall if I ever saw this movie on the big screen)--I was increasingly older than Savannah, but the idea of uncaring parents--that's weirdly universal. Even if you've got good parents, parents who love you, there are inevitably those times that they have their own stuff going on and they neglect their attention for you. And love doesn't feel so... Unbeatable?

But, despite the tragic ending here, the love of these two men for the titular Savannah is too powerful as to be corny or cheesy.

It just is.