Friday, July 31, 2020

the secrets of the universe

Explorers opens with Ben asleep with his TV on (War of the Worlds is on), dreaming about flying over a Tron-ish circuitboard reality. He wakes and frantically draws a piece of his dream. Then he calls up Wolfgang to talk about it.

As you do. A good dream. A good movie. You gotta share with someone, gotta talk about it. Or at least I do. This blog is some of the obvious evidence.

The Junior High the boys attend here is Charles M. Jones... That is, Chuck Jones, the cartoonist. Not the name of the High School where they filmed, but chosen deliberately. Because the cartoon reference matters. This is a movie about creativity and imagination and I just found out that Wolfgang's house is not far from where I'm writing right now, and I love that.
 

 
 

 
 
This Island Earth is the next movie we see, after some science fiction magazines and books.

But, per the movie later, the island is not isolated. Like the immigrants in yesterday's An American Tail, the aliens in Explorers have knowledge about America, particularly our films, our pop culture. As Janet Maslin puts it in her New York Times review, director Joe Dante "includes more than enough of his standard touches [including] skewed scenes of suburbia" and his idea of "the great beyond is already filling up with the detritus of American pop culture". Much like the rest of the world, really.

Dante's (or screenwriter Eric Luke's) version of suburbia is fairly stereotypical. The kid with the messed up home life who puts engines together in his spare time teams up with the bullied nerd and his science geek best friend to have some power over their lives, and after getting sidetracked in their adventure in outer space, they can mess with the local bullies and maybe Ben can get the girl he's got a crush on. But in the meantime, it's a little like a Stephen King novel, if he wrote whimsical science fiction.

The boys build their spaceship out of suburban trash, and this matters too as far as the ideas the film is playing with. A lost tilt-a-whirl seat, a trash can, a tire, a suitcase, an old tv screen, some doors from clothes washers, and other random parts. The bubble that allows it to fly comes from a dream, and the ship itself comes from the remains of several.

And pieces of other movies are here too. From the two old science fiction films we've already seen, to the title of the film interrupted at the drive-in--Star Killer--presumably a reference to Luke Skywalker's original surname. And Ben plays with his flashlight like a lightsaber after putting on a gas mask. And the robotic scanner resembles the one outside Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi. There's a sled reference to Citizen Kane. A newspaper headline that references the events of Gremlins. Another references Twilight Zone: The Movie. The dreamscape looks like Tron. Wolfgang quotes Poltergeist's "They're here." Ben quotes Star Trek's "where no man has gone before." The county where the film takes places I named for a planet in Not of This Earth. Not to mention all the movies and TV shows that Wak and Neek reference in act three.

And, I think after all these years, or maybe already when I first saw Explorers on the big screen 34 years ago, my brain is a bit like the aliens' brains in this film, full of movie quotes and references and everything I do or say is influenced by all that. And, the thing is I'm cheating by putting this film on the fixture list because we never even had it on video. But, I saw it on the big screen, we may have rented it to watch it again, and I watched it on cable more than a few times. But, more than that, its visuals and its ideas stuck with me over the years. The amalgamated pop culture on the spaceship mutated into my contention that every movie is every other movie and movies change who you are, and all of the stuff I've ever written in this blog, or said on my podcasts about movies.

Movies tell us about the time and place they were made, but they also tell us about ourselves. What kind of stories are we drawn to? What kind of characters attract us? How do we like our endings? Like Rob Gordon's iconic question: "What came first, the music or the misery?" Did I see so many movies over all these years because I loved movies, or do I love movies because I've seen so many over the years? Do I like the movies I like today because of their similarity (and dissimilarity) to ones I saw when I was a child? Did movies make me or did I make them? Not literally, of course. I made none of these movies, but echo back through this blog, all those references to Izod by way of Benesh, how you take a movie into your head and what resonates afterward is your version of the film. And each time you remember it, it changes, it lessens or it swells. It fixes itself inside you, helps hold you up and build you, or it drifts away to be replaced by something else.

It isn't just movies, of course. There's books and tv shows and games and sports and so much else. But, if you're reading this blog after all these entries, I figure movies have a special place for you like they do for me

All bundled together inside your head.

And it's your job to make something useful of it.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

this is america

In 2000, Fievel Mousekewitz was named an official icon for UNICEF for "promoting worldwide understanding and friendship among children." However much Roger might have dismissed the movie for being too depressing—
he wrote, among other complaints, "The movie has such vague ethnic grounds... that only a few children will understand or care that the Mousekewitzes are Jewish. And few of those are likely to be entertained by such a tragic, gloomy story.
—the film not only performed well—it was #2 behind Crocodile Dundee its opening weekend and #18 at the box office for all of 1986 (and it didn't come out until November)—but has also endured. A few sequels, a couple video games, a comic book, and some nice retrospective articles years after release.

Regarding the latter, for example, Dave Trumbore, who credits An American Tail as the first film he saw in a theater, writes for Collider, 21 November 2016:
What I once regarded as a darkly serious and sometimes silly tale about a young mouse separated from his family on the streets of New York City has matured into a harrowing allegory for our world's enduring evils: racism, the vilification of "the other", and the breaking of the Golden Rule.
I had to wonder yesterday if the cats were the Americans and the mice were the immigrants. Originally, there were not supposed to be any humans in the film at all, but we do see humans, but in the background—the cat and mouse story more like that of an underground society. So, while the mice do seem more distinctly (but not explicitly) varied in their origins—one on the ship to America wears a kilt and Balmoral cap, for example—the cats seem deliberately more monolithic (except for Tiger, of course). But, I think the story plays more interestingly if we look at the humans as the "Americans" and the cats and mice are just different groups of immigrants. And, they have to, as I said yesterday, compete with each other for resources because they don't have the clout to get above scraps. Or they would be human, I guess, to belabor the metaphors a bit.


If we look at them as explicitly different cultural, ethnic, or racial groups, the finale of the cats versus mouse storyline is a little problematic. The Mousekewitzes flee Russia because of an anti-Semitic pogrom (though the film does not explain this—hence Roger's "vague ethnic grounds" referenced above) but the Giant Mouse of Minsk plan is to shove all of the cats off the dock onto a ship bound for Hong Kong? What if that plan doesn't work? Is the next venture more violent? How does the metaphor extend beyond the presented story?

In passing I should note that the suitcase in which Warren T. lives has a hat sitting on top of it that looks like a human-sized version of Fievel's own Kasket cap. A specific implication about the possibilities if Fievel doesn't find his way back to his family perhaps. If he rejects them when he does later, and they do not happen along when they do, does Fievel join up with a gang, maybe a specifically Russian one, Russian and Jewish even. Does Fievel become an actual mouse version of Warren T.'s local crime boss? Not an unheard of possibility for an immigrant who finds normal life difficult upon arriving in America.

Rebecca Long, Vice, 21 November 2019:
[Director Don] Bluth contends that creating an overly romanticized version of the world is a disservice to viewers. "Now shall we manicure this and make it look like everything's wonderful in America... And people are all good to each other? That's certainly not real," he says. Bluth paraphrases a quote he remembers by actress Lillian Gish: "A movie is not an innocent thing... All you directors out there, you're changing the way people think. Be very careful that you tell the truth."
I couldn't find the original Gish line Bluth is paraphrasing, but I understand the sentiment certainly. I mean, I've said all along in this blog that every movie tells you something about the time and place it was made, it tells you about the politics, the gender relations, the values, the haves and have nots, the ins and outs, the ups and downs. Even if it doesn't try to. Even if it doesn't want to. A movie can generally give you a pretty good idea of what its writer(s) or director is trying to say. Take note for instance of where Fievel lands first arriving in America. He lands on Liberty Island, where he meets Henri, an immigrant or maybe just a visitor, but definitely not a native. Henri is quite comfortable in his own skin, and he has a vaguely optimistic philosophy about life which he explains in "Never Say Never". Henri is working on the Statue of Liberty, and just before Fievel's bottle washes up, we hear a chorus singing the familiar final lines to Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus":
Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-toast to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
And later, when Gussie Mausheimer is rallying the mouse crowd...
Money is not everything. I know, because I have money and I have everything, but what are they worth without freedom? Why did we come to America? For freedom! Why are they building that statue? What does it stand for? Freedom! So, what do we want? Freedom.
But then it gets a little problematic.
Freedom from cats. And because this is America, we can do something about them!
Problematic because by turning to violence against the cats, I think the mice kinda missed the point of "A Duo". Though I guess, technically, they didn't hear it. But, we did. And, no, a movie is not innocent. It presents its ideas in (if done well) a digestible form so we take it in, make it a part of ourselves, and become someone new by the time the credits roll. It doesn't have to be a big change, but a good film will offer some change. And, each time you think on it, think on its messages, you might become a little more of what it wanted you to be, or perhaps you might be more reactionary and turn away from it, but still, the film has fueled that change.

In the past "year" of blog entries, I have explored movies that were fixtures of my childhood. Movies that, in large ways and small, good ways and bad, helped build me into the me I was later. I've got just one movie left in that deconstruction after An American Tail, and I think I've demonstrated that not only did these movies affect me when I was young, but coming back to them, even to ones I barely remember after years of separation, the me that I am today has to measure and re-measure itself, and every movie is still not innocent, but a potentially powerful influence. And an immigrant tale like this one—if you saw this when you were young and you enjoyed it, and years later you demonize immigrants and even underprivileged natives, you, my friends, are doing it wrong. And, you should back up and give your life some measure as well...

We can hope you come out better on a second pass.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

in the family for three generations

I have not watched many kids films for this blog. Even when going through movie fixtures from my childhood, there were a few child-friendly films but few made primarily for kids. Today, though, we've got An American Tail and I do not recall the last time I watched it. Once upon a time I loved this movie and had all the lyrics to all the songs memorized.


As I wait for the first song, I get sidetracked by the history. After the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, some blamed Jews, and a series of pogroms followed. The Cossacks attack the town of Shostka because there are Jewish families there. The Mousekewitzes are just one.

And, oh shit, I had forgotten that "There Are No Cats in America" begins with Papa explaining how his parents were killed.

Damn, kids movie.

And then other mice tell their sad tales in between joyful choruses. And, already I'm imagining the way a movie like this influenced me when I was just 10 years old. Refugees just looking for a place to live and the movie doesn't tell us who the Cossacks are or why they burn down houses. But, it's pretty clear the Mouskewitzes need somewhere better and maybe we know there are cats here and the streets are not paved with cheese, but immigrants have been dreaming of better lives here since before it was a country, and by 11 I knew that, but I'd also surely heard plenty of anti-immigrant talk from people at school, in church, at home. A movie like this could stand up against that kind of thing.

Fievel lands on Liberty Island alone after a storm at sea, and ends up befriended by Henri Le Pigeon, a bird with a nice positive attitude. So Fievel sets out to the New York City proper and gets caught up by Warren T. Rat and stuck in a job he doesn't want.
(We hear kids reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and it anachronistically includes "under God.")
He escapes, and teams up withTony, a streetwise kid who falls for Bridget, who is out preaching about the unfairness of cats. Then off to Tammany Hall, where Honest John is, of course, corrupt. And, openly drunk.

And, I wrote a few weeks back about babies in baskets and Fievel sleeps in a large baby basket floating in water the night he and Tanya sing "Somewhere Out There." Fievel, set adrift in that storm, sent into the city by Henri, to work by Warren T., to Tammany Hall by Bridget, he's one more lost child turned hero because despite, or because of, fate throwing so much at him. And, what kind of hero? An immigrant who just wants to be reunited with his family, but also, to be good for those around him. And he inspires the secret weapon they use against the cats.

And, his quest becomes a shrunken down version of something epic when he ventures below ground, barely survives an interaction with giant roaches and what I guess is an eel only to learn who the Shakespeare-quoting Warren T. really is.

And, then he meets Tiger. And, "A Duo" has my daughter Saer going on about how wholesome this movie is, but it's talking about different groups of immigrants forced to compete with each other for, at best, power, at worst, the freedom to just live how they want. But wrapped up in a cute package. Cute and a little depressing. Even after Fievel helps beat the cats, he's still got more travails ahead. Alone in the rain.

Except, in movies, rain is often cleansing, and the story already has mythic overtones. So, after proclaiming that he doesn't need his family anymore, he awakens to the sound of his sister calling his name, and all is well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

the new working woman

Waiter coded gay.
Fritz a condescending ass pretending he's looking out for JC's interests.
And that's where the sacrifice conversation begins. At the end of the film, JC insists she still doesn't want to make sacrifices, and yet she has already made most of the sacrifices that Fritz is talking about. She has a kid, has a house to look after, has a growing business. I don't remember if we see them, but she's got to have employees. Is she going to talk like Fritz later with her female employees?
Steven doesn't like JC dreaming about a vacation home and sex with him takes seconds and he calls it incredible when she is clearly not at all satisfied.
Feminism in the 80s still loves capitalism. JC's problem, Baby Boom would have us believe, is not her work ethic, even though 70-80 work hours a week will not fit with having a child. And JC is not satisfied with Vermont.
Hughes rejects JC ostensibly because she has a child (but really because she brought the kid to their meeting, so maybe he isn't that bad, or ineffective, yet.)
Even before she's got water troubles (the pipes and then the well) the movie doesn't show us much of her settling in.

But, I'm getting ahead of the movie now. As I pointed out yesterday, this movie stays in the city for more than half its length, making the Vermont venture a minor element. Which is strange. Because I imagine an ending in which JC doesn't say, "If The Food Chain can put Country Baby on every supermarket shelf in America, so can I." Instead she'd not need to be on every supermarket shelf in America. She's got one orchard, she's already selling her applesauce throughout Vermont...

I used to have this argument all the time with a guy I know online, used to work for the SciFi Channel, about tv ratings. The goal was always every show has to be number one in its slot with the right demographic, and that seemed like a ridiculous goal to me. A) It's science fiction, it's not going to be the most popular thing most of the time. Hell, almost never. 2) It's basic cable, so it would never hit the numbers of a network, and networks don't even get the numbers that they used to because there are more and more options for watching television all the time. And D) There is nothing wrong with coming in second, nothing wrong with making just enough profit to pay your employees well, pay your crew, your actors, buy new shows, and live to sci fi another day.
Everett sees a child in JC's office and (along with Fritz) is not happy about it. But, JC is preoccupied, spills Elizabeth's bottle on him, and is flustered, so maybe we're not supposed to be on JC's side yet, capitalism is winning.
With the interviews of potential nannies, and the first one being irresponsible, and JC panicking at the second, it seems like JC cannot trust other women (or maybe the movie doesn't want her to) anymore than she can trust men.
The straw that really breaks the camel's back at work is when JC takes a call in a meeting, when all she had to do is step out. Like none of the men there have ever had a call to take during a meeting, have never had any emergency that their wives couldn't take care of (like Fritz claims his does).
It feels like the movie is presenting men who are inadequate--I'm ahead of the film here, but the plumber in town, Boone, even--the presentation of his work estimates play like he's a country rube who doesn't know anything. His yeps and nopes present as if he's an idiot. But he clearly gets the work done. And, at the dance later, he seems to have some musical talent as well. But, at that point JC is more comfortable with Vermont so it's okay if we see another side of him.

Even his choice to take JC to Dr. Cooper when she faints is a pretty good move. There is no other Doctor nearby, so he gets her to the vet, because who knows what kind of emergency it is? The problem at Dr. Cooper's is not that he's the wrong kind of doctor but simply that JC doesn't realize it and after freaking out in front of Boone, she continues to spill out her feelings in front of this stranger and it becomes an embarrassment. That he's a veterinarian is just an extra punchline to make their future interactions more (and inappropriately) awkward.
JC spills her soda at a meeting, and it feels unrealistic to me--I've been in work meetings--that she's the only one without a good solid mug on the table. There would be drinks of all kinds, and probably bagels or donuts or something. The mess being just hers is a cheap move by the movie, except I'm not sure what the move means. Is JC bad at her job? Is her inability to keep up with a younger woman out walking because she's got a stroller an indicator that she is falling behind because of her choices and that is a bad thing? Or is she realizing that she doesn't need to keep up because there are better things in her life now? The movie should be arguing the latter but keeps insisting on the former.   
Ken does part of JC's job when she can't get to it, and 1) that's a dick move but also 2) a sign that the film is recalling pushing the idea that JC can no longer hack it. 
But, that's 80s capitalism and Fritz rewards Ken and JC quits. 
And Fritz is an asshole. Doesn't know how many grandkids he has, and he says it like he's made the right choice, work over family.
And, I'm not sure the film really disagrees. In the scene before the well discussion and JC fainting, she talks to a friend over the phone and her tone suggests things aren't going well, but the set decoration and the direction suggest to me otherwise. She's got firewood inside now; we saw her struggling to get firewood outside in the snow earlier. The place is clean. There are baby toys on the floor, sure, but that's normal, and JC is still at the point that she picks them up; she hasn't given up yet. But, the well drying up is too much.
And then there's Dr. Cooper. Stable. Calm. Immediately offering to listen to JC's problems. Not much later, he also offers to help with her research at the library. Somehow he's the positive male type in the film, but also sort of antithetical to what the film wants, or what we think it wants. JC isn't supposed to need a man, and she wants success with her applesauce. Country Baby is supposed to be ticket back to regular life...
But her regular life is not what she wants. Not anymore. That's the movie this should be. But, 80s feminism wants to reify the need for JC to keep pushing, even as the film wants to reify her need for a man in her life, and it's pushing in different directions and doesn't really work if you think about it. But if JC embraced Vermont, embraced Country Baby as a company that doesn't need to be nationwide to be successful, and could still embrace Dr. Cooper because he's a nice guy...
If he hadn't basically assaulted her by her truck when she had that flat tire. And, after she had confessed to him she hadn't been with a man in a while. I mean, back the fuck off, Jeff. She isn't interested, and no matter how much immediate dislike is twisted into attraction in every other romantic comedy (not that this was a romantic comedy for the first hour), that trope has got to go, and you need to keep your hands and mouth to yourself.
So, nevermind embracing Dr. Cooper. But, Vermont and economic comfort--that seems nice.

Monday, July 27, 2020

keeping her a little longer

Opening narration:
53% of the American workforce is female. Three generations of women that turned 1,000 years of tradition on its ear. As little girls they were told to grow up and marry doctors and lawyers. Instead they grew up and became doctors and lawyers. They moved out of the "pink ghetto" and into the executive suite. Sociologists say the new working woman is a phenomenon of our time. Take JC Wiatt, for example. Graduated first in her class at Yale, got her MBA at Harvard. Has a corner office at the corner of 58th and Park. She works five to nine, makes six figures a year, and they call her the Tiger Lady. Married to her job, she lives with an investment banker married to his. They collect African art, co-own their co-op and have separate but equal IRA accounts. One would take it for granted that a woman like this has it all. One must never take anything for granted.
Of course the narrator will not return; it's one of those openings. Plus, you know, the usual big city montage shots before we can get to our story.

But, I'm more concerned today with an idea I was trying to research before the film. Because I was sure that housewife turns homemade food item into a business (often with hilarious results, sometimes failure) was surely a thing you'd find on TV Tropes, but even with help, I couldn't prove that it ever happened anywhere but 7th Heaven. And Baby Boom, although JC Wiatt has more success with her baby food business than Annie Camden had with her muffins.
 
 
 
 
 
I remember this movie more for the Vermont part of it, but nearly an hour in, it's spent more time on the not-as-satirical-as-it-could-be city life with JC juggling becoming a mother with remaining in her job. But there was a whole segment where JC's boyfriend put up with having the baby when I remembering him rejecting her right away. I'd forgotten all about the adoption attempt (although as soon as I saw Mr. And Mrs. White I remembered that they wanted to rename the kid Fern, and I forgot about the nannies, but as soon as I saw Victoria Jackson, I remembered her naked behind the couch with the guy she met in that park that day, and I knew James Spader was going to get the promotion JC was supposed to get but all of this city stuff I was sure happened faster. That the film turned into the escapist Vermont countryside story earlier.

Like I was talking about plot points the other day, and now I'm wondering about this movie's plot points. Getting Elizabeth is the inciting incident, right. Plot Point One--and I forgot to check the timing on this one--was when JC decided to keep her after meeting the Whites. I'm not sure now (as JC is freaking out and scaring the plumber a bit after her well dried up) if Spader got the promotion before or after the Whites wanted to name Elizabeth Fern, but I guess JC finding out she's off the Food Chain account and on the Ferber Dog Food account is Pinch One. Moving to Vermont--that would be the midpoint. Then the movie rushed into too many apples, she's making baby food, but the pipes were corroded and then the well dried up and now she fainted and was taken to the local vet (because the nearest proper doctor was too far away)--
on TV Tropes, that's Open Heart Dentistry, by the way
--and then thinks about burning down her new house because it has no chance of being sold, and in come some yuppies to buy the baby applesauce. Pinch Two... Not quite at 62.5% of the way but close enough.


An old reference around here, Phil Dyer describes Pinch Two as
Halfway between the mid-point and the second plot point should be a major plot event that pushes the protagonist in a new direction, usually because of the revelation of new information.
JC sees how the yuppie tourists grab at her applesauce and she's off to the library for some business magazines--looking for updated market information, of course.

Then, a flat tire has her interacting with the local vet again, and yada yada yada, they kiss, and with Pinch Two so early, and a roadtrip selling montage underway, I'm not sure what Plot Point Two is going to be. And, now I'm figuring I should have read my copy of Kristin Thompson's Storytelling in the New Hollywood by now, so I could be writing around the three-act structure already, demonstrating that movies don't always follow it very well. Except, they usually hew pretty close to it, just with a second act that plays a little long, and a third act sometimes that is quite short.

Plot Point Two is supposed to be:
the worst thing that could possibly occur in the protagonist's pursuit of his external goal should happen.
We get a montage of packaging and news coverage marking success at an hour twenty-five.
This usually happens because the antagonist exposed the protagonists' internal flaw for the world to see.
But, JC is at a local dance having a great time and I'm not sure there is an antagonist in this film. At least not a visible one right now. Inevitably, this is leading back to business, back to the city, back to the place she used to work, but no inkling of that yet.
It should appear at this point that the antagonist has won the battle and that it is now impossible for the protagonist to overcome his internal flaw and achieve his external goal.
And then the protagonist is supposed to return to the real world. The "real world" of the film should be the city, but she can't return there. The "real world" could be business, but she's already back there. Or the "real world" is the nice heteronormative relationship she's starting up with Dr. Cooper, who comes to her house after the dance. And, I guess he could be the antagonist. Or in a way, all hes are the antagonists, or rather we've got bell hooks' "imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy" at it again, and JC Wiatt has to stand up against it.

Spends the night with Dr. Cooper, Elizabeth calls him daddy, and phone rings for an opportunity with the Food Chain buying Country Baby. Which circles us back to Dyer's "buildup to resolution":
The protagonist returns to his ordinary world at this point, but he should now be so changed by everything that he has gone through that he can no longer be satisfied living the way he did before.
And the film makes a nice move in filming JC from behind as she enters the place she used to work. She doesn't belong there anymore, even if she hasn't realized it yet.
The protagonist will summon all of his internal resources, often following a visit to a mentor or oracle, and make one final heroic push to accomplish his external goal. This is the real point of no return.
Her old boss Fritz is certainly patronizing and condescending at the table, and a little sarcastic laughter suggests that this meeting will not be simple. Which cinematically means it cannot end the way it was supposed to, which means JC has to say no or we wouldn't be watching this meeting happen.









Sunday, July 26, 2020

i love to dress up and pretend

Under the opening titles, as Patti LaBelle sings "Something Special" we see different women in different outfits, in blocks that never show the whole person. Parts of women, parts of outfits, earrings, eye makeup, and yesterday (because I had completely forgotten the acting class angle of Outrageous Fortune, I thought for a moment this was going to be about women working in fashion. But no.

Cut to theatrical fencing class and Lauren is, to put it mildly, overeager. And we learn that her ambition is to play Hamlet. Cut to dance class. A gay guy who asks her out "to do some serious research" and she turns him down. Cut to Lauren and friend talking about not dating actors. They find the flyer for Korzenowski's workshop. Cut to Lauren outside her parents house in need of money. And I find myself confused because she could just do her own production of Hamlet with the $5000 her father gives her. And, Lauren's idea that Sandy can't go into an audition for the workshop
without a prepared classical monologue. That means Shaw, Ibsen, Shakespeare.
feels wrong. Like the screenwriter thought the audience would only understand stage acting within an extremely narrow scope. And, I'm reminded of Shakespeare in Love when all the actors audition with the same lines from Marlowe's Doctor Faustus--"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss." But Thomas Kent grabs Shakespeare's attention to by reciting lines that are 1) different and 2) from Shakespeare's own Two Gentlemen of Verona--
What light is light? If Sylvia be not seen? What joy is joy if Sylvia be not by? Unless it be to think that she is by and feed upon the shadow of perfection. Except, I be by Sylvia in the night. There is no music in the nightingale unless I look on Sylvia in the day. There is no day for me to look upon. She is my essence and I leave to be if I be not--
And, one must wonder in the context of Shakespeare in Love if Shakespeare is enamored because she compliments his writing or because she picked something unique. Is it ego or boredom? Or maybe both.

But even Will himself wouldn't hold up Hamlet as the epitome of theater. And he would tell her to find herself some funding--or rather get some more from her father--reserve a theater, run some auctions of her own, and play Hamlet already.

And I would say, take an interest in something less obvious.

But, as Lauren and Sandy get held up by a kid with a toy gun, I get distracted wondering what was popular in theater in the late 80s and further distracted by what's called "Great Theater Massacre of 1982". In 1973, hotelier John Portman Jr. Set out to build a hotel in Times Square. Three Broadway stages and 2 movie theaters would be demolished. Portman tried to appease his detractors with a promise of a new stage inside the hotel, but there were protests, plans were delayed. Portman backed down. For a while. In 1980, he returned with the support of Mayor Ed Koch. In 1982, enter Joe Papp, producer and director, and the "Save the Theaters" campaign. Broadway/Times Square was to be designated a national historic site. But, the bill to do so didn't pass, theaters were demolished, the hotel went up.

Meanwhile, Lauren and Sandy get along like girlfriends for a moment as they hesitate to finally confront Michael, and I get stuck still on Lauren's lines from earlier. Her plan for the audition was "Ophelia's mad speech" which I'm guess she means that "what a noble mind is here o'erthrown" bit in Act III, and I figure if Leslie Dixon wanted to make a female version of a buddy copy sort of movie, maybe she shouldn't hinge it on two women being stuck on a man who lied to them both. Maybe don't aim for feminism by having Lauren want, without any further explanation, to play Hamlet. And, maybe don't have her using a monologue that reinforces the female character's subservience to the male. Obsessing about Hamlet's madness and not her own.
(I do try to find another Ophelia monologue about madness and find none.)

I mean, the idea works, generally. A couple of women get caught up in a plot far bigger than them (like many an action film, not just buddy cop movies), the men around them, whether villains or supposed heroes, just get in the way, and the women have to get shit done themselves... Until they need help from George Carlin and a truckload of Mexicans. But then Lauren gets to win the final confrontation with Michael by jumping like she did in dance class and everything is just fine. The lying man is gone. He didn't release a toxin that could kill all the vegetation in California. And, Lauren gets to play Hamlet.

I'm not sure if it's feminist or not.

But, it's a comedy that has the identification of a body hinging on genital size, a lead come after the offer of a blow job, and the final locating of Michael (in a brothel no less) by listening to him climax with a prostitute, and my conservative mother still loved it.

Go figure.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

i don’t know, i’ll make something up

It's strange how some movies can be entirely familiar after decades, and some that were familiar once have slinked away out of my head. A few movies ago, I realized that somehow I had conflated Big Business and Outrageous Fortune as one big movie involving, I guess, two pairs of mismatched twins who also share a man and get involved with some sort of organized crime (I still can't quite recall what happens later in this film) and end up in the Mexican desert.


Instead there's a genius acting instructor--Stanislav Korzenowski--and just two women (only one of them played by Bette Midler) who both audition for his workshop. And, I'm reminded of when I went to a Meisner workshop a couple years ago with my friend Christi from D&D, and it was fun but I had issues. For one, how the teacher described the way one plays as a child, becoming the thing you are playing at being, was exactly what I meant when I used the word "pretend" which was a semantic argument he had no time for and I was too distracted for, no matter how much I might like debate, because some of the exercises bugged me in nit picky ways beyond that.

Like we had to close our eyes and describe what we heard and they had someone walk out of the back room, right past us, out the front door, leaving it open so we could hear the flow of traffic going by. But, when I said I heard someone walk by, it was, no you didn't, you heard the sound of cloth (someone's pants) brushing by, and I wanted to say how am I allowed to assume it's pants but I can't assume it's a person wearing them, but I keep quiet because I'm there with a friend, and some of the other people there seem nice, and it was a one-time free workshop to see if we wanted to join the Meisner Center for regular classes.

And then there was the exercise where we had to count the... I don't know what they're called--the things that hold the ceiling tiles in place. And, we were not to speak until we had a number we would bet our life on. What we should have done then is assume our lives actually depended on it, and pretend that this was a hostage situation or something, because when we took the time to count and the teacher guy challenged us on whether we'd bet our life on the count, I just wanted better instructions, not vague assholery pretending at genius.

But then, I check the timecode when Peter Coyote gets blown up (only 23 minutes in) and am reminded instead of an acting workshop of a cinema class at USC many years earlier when I first learned about plot points and I got to be the asshole pretending at genius when we had to identify plot point one in Some Like It Hot an people said it was when Joe and Jerry witness the mob hit, but I stepped up and said, no, it's when they dress as women to get away, because the movie was not about them running from the mob so much as it was about them having to pretend--there's that word again--to be women while hanging out with Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. And, this movie is not about Lauren and Sandy chasing after Michael so much as it is about them having to put up with each other's company along the way. They get into the taxi cab together after discovering that the body in the morgue is not Michael at minute 30, a far more appropriate time for a plot point. Then they head to Lauren's apartment and find two men ransacking the place. Cue main plot.
 
 
 
 
 
Finally, a lunchbox with cash in it shows up. I remembered that thing but didn't remember the acting classes that were central to act one. Weird. I guess Shelley Long tossing cash up in the air to gather a crowd was more memorable than some guy trying to act out Hamlet without using any words...

Which maybe there's something to acting classes with silly bullshit like that, or counting those thingies between the ceiling tiles, but I guess I just want it spelled out. Give me a situation, a role, whatever, but be specific. You want me to act like my life depends on something, tell me that. Especially, in your free class you're using to convince us to throw a whole lot of cash at your school. Doing math and then being told math wasn't the point and every one of us did it wrong--that ain't much of a selling point.
 
 
 
 
 
Some questionable humor by today's standards, but the pace is fairly relentless once Lauren and Sandy team up.

Then slows down all over again after they find Michael, lose him again, and end up with the CIA. Turns out Korzenowski is really KGB--which makes sense; genius acting teachers working an extra level of bullshit makes perfect sense--and Michael was CIA but turned. And, I'm not entirely sure how there's still half an hour left of the film when they get Korzenowski at gunpoint.

Friday, July 24, 2020

change the world, make it better

The thing about Baby is, she is already is someone who wants to make the world a better place. Maybe despite her parents—it's a little presumptuous to think they aren't all for her plans—she wants to join the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps had only recently begun. The first group of volunteers started training in June 1961. She references monks burning themselves in protest—Thich Quang Duc famously did so June 11 1963. Right before the film starts. And, she "wants to send her leftover pot roast to Southeast Asia" (sort of) and she plans to major in "Economics of Underdeveloped Countries"—
(I find it odd that Neil tells her that he is "going to Mississippi with a couple of busboys, freedom ride." With a different tone, it could be a sarcastic response to her Peace Corps plan, like he doesn’t buy that a rich Jewish girl like her would deign to do that. Except, the actor playing Neil doesn’t say it that way. He says it like he means it. His reference to busboys could be a racist sort of line, too, and right before they bring the old black guy up on stage as a token performance.)
—and she is reading Gregg's MacPherson's Plight of the Peasant in the car. That book doesn't seem to be real. Which makes it not just a choice behind the scenes, but a very deliberate one.

So, it's not that Baby needs to figure out who she is. She just needs to figure out who she isn't. Notably, at the big opening show Baby is brought on stage for the magic act and she is sawed in two. A metaphor for this whole summer. She wants to be the dutiful daughter, but she's already leaning toward something else, and this is the summer that pushes her over that edge.

Just look at the costuming. From when Baby arrives at Kellerman's she dresses in clothing that shows more and more skin. Obvious, of course. But, what you probably don't think about is that in the world of the film, Baby brought these clothes with her. Maybe not the leotard-type stuff (maybe she borrowed that, and the pink with white polka dots thing she wears when "Hungry Eyes" begins is probably just her bathing suit), but the denim shorts, the tank tops.

It's worth noting, of course, that she also dresses most of the time in white or at least very light colors, and Johnny's outfits are partly or all black. The film wants us to see Baby as an innocent learning something new. But, that isn't quite true. Instead, the movie wants us
the kids who saw this movie because our parents got past the title and thought we were getting a basic romance involving dancing and probably regretted taking us afterward
—as innocents ourselves to learn something from the film. Baby is who Baby is, from the start. A couple years earlier, still in high school, she heard Kennedy talking about starting the Peace Corps and she was inspired. Watching events unfolding in Southeast Asia she pays attention, she wants to do something. And, the microcosm is simpler: seeing the plight of Johnny and Penny she wants to help. And she doesn't hesitate to speak up, doesn't hesitate to confront Robbie, and then to get money from her father when Robbie is no help.

It's important that Johnny and Penny don't need Baby's help, though. They've got plans for Penny to get an abortion. They've got friends. They seem like people who find a way to get things done. And, when Johnny finds that he locked his keys in his car, he immediately pops the top off a nearby post and breaks his own car window. He is not helpless. Which makes it all the more important that Baby involves her father in helping Penny, and admits in front of him that she spent the night with Johnny to get Johnny off the hook for theft. Johnny is just a commodity at Kellerman's. No one there sees him as a person outside the staff that dance up on the hill. And Baby.

And, notably, Johnny makes no effort to use Baby as his alibi, because he is better than that.


Jason Bellamy, Slant Magazine, 7 September 2012:
From the get-go, Dirty Dancing is throbbing with sexuality, yes, but it's hormones are distinctly adolescent. It tapes into a time in our lives when dancing isn't just a stand-in for or a gateway to sex but is a perfectly fulfilling erotic exercise all its own. Seen through Baby's eyes, the movie is dominated not just by experimentation s with adulthood, a common theme at the multiplex, but something much rarer: the discovery of adulthood.
Melissa McEwan, The Guardian, 16 September 2009:
Under the guise of a teen rom-com dressed in the styles of a period dance flick, Dirty Dancing surreptitiously delivered a subversive counter-narrative to many of the things I was hearing as an adolescent girl poised on the precipice of years that adults around me fervently (and vocally) hoped would not be marked by significant rebellion or any of the foolishness associated with raging hormones.
Kate Gardner, The Mary Sue, 16 July 2018:
The film openly tackles the fact that Penny's choice was nearly taken away by legislation, and that she had to turn to less than safe means to get her abortion. It does not shy away from the horrifying reality of her situation, but rather forces audiences to face it head on while luring them in with the promise of a seemingly light movie.
Bree Davies, Westword, 23 April 2013:
From my memory, all I knew was that Dirty Dancing was about, uh dancing--but in truth, it's. a movie about lying to your parents, back-alley abortions and a romance marred by classist attitudes...
Beyond the dancing, this movie was about Baby's liberation, her desire to help a fellow woman out of a tricky situation and her will to love who she wanted to love. Baby was a feminist icon.
But...

Noo Saro-Wiwa, The Guardian, 31 August 2017:
Baby proves that a sense of entitlement can breed a fearlessness that delivers results...
Baby's is the ultimate liberal story in which adolescent rebellion takes the moral lead and drives society forward. It dovetails nicely with my belief that indulgence, when pursued responsibly, makes the world go round. Nothing unites us as a species quicker than food, love, music, and dance.
And movies. And romance. Yet Roger says, "This might have been a decent movie if it had allowed itself to be about anything." It is very much about something. From Johnny's angle, it is damn the consequences, go after what you want, dance your dance (like Scott Hastings all those decades (or five years) later will do at the Pan Pacifics), and get the girl. That's simple. That's familiar. But, from Baby's angle, there's more going on. If you've got privilege, use it to make other people's lives better, but don't treat them like lesser people who owe you something, just do what's right, make things better, and keep on doing the same every time because it's right, not because it makes you a better person. The adults around Baby—her father and Max Kellerman (and his wife, who I can't even remember if her character has a name), for example—look at Johnny and the rest of the "entertainment staff" like they're nobodies. Baby does better than that. And, if we saw this as kids—I saw it when I was 11–I hope we do better as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

willing to stand up for other people

I want to say coincidence, but I'm guessing there's something more involved than just chance. But, anyway, weird coincidence that Dirty Dancing came out just a month after Adventures in Babysitting and they both* begin with The Ronettes' "Be My Baby".
(* This isn’t true but for whatever reason “Be My Baby” sounded just like “Then He Kissed Me” in my head and then even as I realized the mistake I was already writing.)
Which at least distracted me momentarily--
trying to see if there was a producer or someone in the music department that worked on both these films
--from the voiceover narration that lasts all of three sentences. The worst kind of narration, the useless opener because someone involved, probably the director, couldn't think how to establish place and time succinctly.
That was the summer of 1963, when everybody called me "Baby" and it didn't occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps, and I thought I'd never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman's.
That's it. And, within the first ten minutes, we get other indicators of the year, we definitely know the place, and Baby tells a guy on the dance floor that she's going into the Peace Corps.


Johnny and Penny make a show of dancing among the crowd, get in trouble, and it seems Baby is a little smitten. Then she wanders and finds her way to the exciting part of the property (where guest aren't supposed to go) and finds Johnny again. And, "Do You Love Me" plays and my mind drifts because I'm sure I've seen someone dancing to that song in a different movie. It takes a moment, then a Google search to confirm (after the Adventures in Babysitting mishap above). Sleepwalkers, Madchen Amick dancing with her earphones on in the movie theater lobby.

And, then I realize that Penny is played by Cynthia Rhodes, who I would have seen many times in Staying Alive by the time this came out and I have never realized that was the same person. Probably because her hair in the earlier film is so short.

And, then Baby finds Penny alone, crying and shaking, and I'm back in this movie instead of drifting toward other ones. The clean-cut, rich, white, summer vacation spot with all the upstairs downstairs drama going on. Class differences. Star-crossed lovers (or there will be). Or, as Roger puts it--because he didn't care for the film:
Well, you gotta hand it to "Dirty Dancing" for one thing at least. It's got a great title. The title and the ads seem to promise a guided tour into the anarchic practices of untrammeled teenage lust, but the movie turns out to be a tired and relentlessly predictable story of love between kids from different backgrounds.
Like that's a bad thing.

I generally appreciate Roger's take, but I don't always agree.

And, I find it remarkable that a) Roger barely mentions it and I don't remember any controversy over the abortion part of the story, but I do remember controversy over the dancing.

The setup for the plot here is essentially facilitating Penny's abortion.

Noo Saro-Wiwa, writing for The Guardian, calls the plot "more improbable than sci-fi" not because it's unbelievable as a story but because, she insists, it wouldn't be made today. As she describes the plot:
Middle-class Jewish teenager gets her parents' blessing after hooking up with a Catholic, working-class, possible statutory rapist at a summer resort? Only in the 1980s could you get away with a storyline like that. And only in the 80s do the lovebirds go on to shatter class divisions by flash-mobbing hotel guests at dinner time.
But, Saro-Wiwa says, the film
manages to highlight two important truths - first, that youthful indulgence can help solve society's ills, and second, daddy's girl privileges can be harnessed to foster social unity...
I would note that first one more than the second, especially as Robbie offers Baby a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, when the character of Baby is great because she very much believes when she sees something is wrong she should do something about it. Johnny makes fun of her the first time, because she got cash from her father, but admits, when she gets her father to take care of Penny after her abortion goes badly, that what Baby did took guts.

Meanwhile, Johnny is treated like someone lesser and Baby is only just realizing that some people are treated like that, And that doing what's right doesn't mean you get to win. She stands up for Johnny. He still loses his job.

Still, Dr. Houseman learns that it was Robbie who got Penny pregnant, and Johnny returns in time for one last rulebreaking dance number and all is well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

we will continue to improve

Jericho "Action" Jackson is a Cowboy Cop (on TV Tropes). Captain Armbruster is Da Chief. Except neither of them really are. See the thing is, however poorly Action Jackson is executed, it seems to be trying to be something more interesting than just another rulebreaking-cop movie.
He's a loose cannon, but DAMMIT he's the best we have!

That's the Cowboy Cop. Furthermore:
Sure, our society may be built upon rules and procedures, but they usually make for bad television. Sometimes you have to bend the rules, rough up the suspects, moon your supervisors and shred the Constitution to get stuff done.
Jackson very much used to be that. As the two officers in that too-long cold open play him up as a bogeyman for criminals:
Kornblau: Yeah, some say he didn't even have a mother. That some researchers created him to be the first man to walk on the moon without a space suit. 
Lack: Mm-hmm. 
Kornblau: Others says his mother was molested by Bigfoot, and Jackson is their mutant offspring. 
Lack: They bring in Jackson when they want to re-educated some young ne'er-do-well such as yourself, Albert. 
Kornblau: Yeah, I remember one kid got re-educated so bad, his testicle climbed back up into his belly. Wouldn't come out. 
Lack: They called it medical miracle. 
Kornblau: Yeah. Another kid, handcuffed to a chair, gnawed his own hand off like a trapped skunk, or wolverine, or something.
But, when Albert, that purse snatcher from the cold open, tries to make a run for it--inside the police station, mind you--he ends up bumping into and making a mess of Jackson's desk. Jackson stands, says simply "Mellow out", and Albert passes out.
(Later Albert will happen upon Jackson out with Patrice and immediately run away. But there will be no third time to set a pattern and tie Albert, perhaps, to the climax of the film, which would have at least made the lone opening worth it.
But they are overselling him on purpose. Jackson lost his stripes two years ago. Still, in the present, Captain Armbruster calls him "dedicated". In the present, Jackson is not the rulebreaker anymore. And, despite Jackson having lost his stripes because of Dellaplane, Armbruster still thinks Jackson could represent the department at the Businessman's Association Dinner (or whatever that event is). And, even with one-on-one interaction with Dellaplane, Jackson manages to do okay. He sees the news report about Grantham dying in the yacht explosion and immediately sees something bigger is going on. He's a good cop. He's got a degree from Harvard. He's supposed to be better than a Cowboy Cop. But, for some reason, they gave him a Cowboy Cop backstory and took away his gun and expect him to be more Joe Friday (before act three) than Pep Streebek. Which could work if each beat of the investigation felt more earned, and any of it felt more cohesive.

Meanwhile, we don't hear from Armbruster for quite a while. And Jackson continues to "investigate" and behave himself pretty well. I complained yesterday about him backing off Dellaplane when he learns the other guy at the table is the president of the Auto Workers Alliance, but backing off in that moment is a good move for a good detective. Who doesn't have a Da Chief calling him out for all his shit, because there's not much shit to be called out on.

Da Chief, by the way:
This is the eternally put-upon superior of an organization police desperate to. They are always strict and by-the-book but can be comfortably relied upon to give a good Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving-style speech. You can always expect them to say that you have twenty-four hours or demand that you Turn In Your Badge, usually at the top of his formidable voice. They frequently worry that the mayor or district attorney will have his ass (and pension) for whatever destruction the Cowboy Cop caused.
But, for example, after Jackson chases down and jumps on the cab driven by a killer, and causes it to crash, the Captain doesn't already know about it, and doesn't get to yell at him over it because Jackson disappears as the Captain is on the phone finding out. Of course, had Armbruster yelled at him over that chase, it would have been a reasonable response anyway.

An actual Cowboy Cop would have had his first interaction with Dellaplane's wife not by chance meeting but having deliberately sought her out to mess with her husband. And he would have done the same to the mistress rather than her just happening to pick him out of a crowd while she sings. And he would deserve his Promotion, Not Punishment.
 
 
 
 
 
And I thought I was done with this movie. I mean, I'm pretty sure we don't see the captain again until everything is over. And, Jackson is going to commit some acts of violence but we're into act three now and that's just par for the course. But then he stole a police car (not that bad) and proceeded to endanger Sydney's life (or at least make her think he was endangering it) to get her to agree to help him (definitely bad). And, I don't think he even really needs her help at this point, but I guess they want Vanity to get more screentime.

But, worse still, later when Jackson drive's Dellaplane's new car into Dellaplane's mansion, he crashes right into the room where a) he knows Sydney is and b) doesn't know that she isn't right in the path of his car.

And, Captain Armbruster arrives at the mansion before Dellaplane's body is even cold and calls Jackson "Lieutenant" because, why not?

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

you remind me of an old friend

I am breaking with the rules today. Instead of a fixture of my childhood as the movies have been for the last "year" of the blog. When I was figuring out where to stop the childhood deconstruction process, drifting out of my actual, you know, childhood, I discovered a few movies I had inadvertently never put on my list
(And there are surely others. Still forgotten.)
and figured out which of the ones still ahead on the list needed to be gotten to. Put the list together, decided on a whim to jump ahead to the end and work backward, and, depending on how this movie turns out today--it has a 5.5 on IMDb--(un)fortunately, I asked Sarah for suggestions for 80s movies I might've missed. Not that my deconstruction was entirely about the 80s; I mean I began with 1968's Blackbeard's Ghost and worked forward from there
(mostly in release order, but mistakes were made)
and I made it to 1992/1993's Strictly Ballroom and am working my back to 1985 again to end the deconstruction.

Today's film I have maybe only seen start to finish the one time. Probably saw parts of it on cable, and maybe we rented it once. I can't remember. I don't even know the plot. But, Sarah didn't see as many movies as I did in the 80s, certainly didn't see all the action movies I did, but one that she did see is this one, and it left an impact.
(That being said, Sarah is in the kitchen right now, not in here watching the movie with me. That may have been the smart move.)
The movie is Action Jackson, and it took them 10 minutes to get to the titular character, which is a strange way to go.


 
 
 
 
 
Oh no. Bill Duke is the police captain. You don't want to put Mandy into my head when I'm already dreading the potential horribleness of this film. I shall try to think of Predator instead.

Which I guess Peter Dellaplane (who might be our villain) is; a predator, I mean. Action Jackson just called him a sexual sadist, and apparently Action Jackson almost tore the guy's arm off when arresting him at some point, which cost Action Jackson his lieutenant stripes.

And, Peter Dellaplane is played by Coach? INSERT: me laughing because Coach Hayden Fox doesn't feel like the guy to play a sexual sadist.

Sharon Stone, on the other hand, showing up here after I've seen her in two Allan Quartermain films and Police Academy 4, but before Above the Law, Total Recall, and especially before Basic Instinct, could play a sexual sadist

And, now I've distracted myself from whatever the plot is trying to be. Some guys snuck into some dude's office in the cold open, hid like they were in a horror film instead of a cop movie that feels like someone saw Dirty Harry and Beverly Hills Cop
(Beverly Hills Cop is one movie, for example, that should have made my list but did not make the cut for the end of the deconstruction.)
a few too many times and then saw Apollo go down in Rocky IV and figured Carl Weathers needed a job and there's something going on involving cars, and the police station and the whatever-the-convention-event-was-earlier are both full of smoke like this is a film made in the 70s, and this movie is trying really hard to take itself seriously.

Now someone (played by Robert Davi, so I feel like I would have noticed if he was in the first 20 minutes; he wasn't) is threatening to kill himself and Action Jackson is doing a very poor job of talking him down... And that scene ended abruptly. CUT TO: someone singing, and I feel like I should remember who this is. I was going to guess Vanity, but I wasn't sure, so I looked it up. It's Vanity. And, Coach Sadist is her benefactor I guess, but we cut back to Jake Fratelli and Apollo Creed talking about the murders, and I feel like the murders are a side plot, except the film doesn't have a central plot. Also, for spending so long on the purse thief before we even met Action Jackson, that dude seems to matter not a whit now.

And, a guy dressed as an APS driver shows up and kills Maniac Cop, and we don't need that kind of imagery right now when we're in lockdown and UPS showing up is a special occasion. But nevermind that scene, Coach Sadist Fox has a needle, and drugs Vanity into unconsciousness. That makes him more of a pervert than a sadist, I would think, but do we need to nitpick Action Jackson?

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course we have to nitpick this thing. Like, Action Jackson will openly come at Coach Pervert in a restaurant (confronting him about his plans for the AWA) but hesitates to continue when the president of the AWA happens to be the other guy at the table? What the hell? Come at him stronger, Action Man. You don't have a gun. All you've got is making a scene in public.

He's got a nickname and a reputation. Action Johnson should be pushing boundaries all over the place. I mean, who thought making a movie about Dirty Harry when he tries to behave himself was a good idea?

In reality, yeah, cops need to calm the fuck down and behave. But, this is still the 80s. Action Creed here should not be spending so much of his time having conversations with suspects or their wives or their mistresses.

Also, I must make a correction. Looking at quotes from the movie, because I need a title for today, I realize that Apollo Jackson called Coach Fox a sexual psychopath, not a sexual sadist. Got Coach Fox confused with John Lynch in Killing American Style., I suppose. Because, I guess all these movies blend together a little too much sometimes. Bill Duke might as well be Cameron Mitchell or some other one-note police captain from the 80s...

It's like this movie wants to be a little deconstructionist itself. Take the tropes of cop movies and cut past them, but the director has only made episode of The A-Team and the writer hasn't really done shit. So, they do not know how to make the post-modern cop film that I think they are trying to make.

But, mostly it's just tedious.

Monday, July 20, 2020

i’m not one for giving inspirational speeches

There's a thin line between the romantic pressuring we see in romantic comedy and stalker behavior. Riding that line is the premise of a lot of stories, from shows like Netflix's You, which pushes right over the line in its opening scene and keeps pushing, to simple moments like when Charlie says please after Harriet turns down his proposal in So I Married an Axe Murderer. The romantic comedy way is simple: if at first she says no, keep pushing, invade her space, make her realize she can't live without you by defying her to take out a restraining order.

Pressed up against the baseball plot here, the romantic comedy plotline between Jake and Lynn can be taken as an extension of the main idea. Their relationship failed a few years back. The Indians' relationship with Cleveland (at least the way Mrs. Phelps sees it) also failed... well, more than a few years back. The problem is that we can see the Indians' players improving (maybe not why they're improving (except specifically in the case of Vaughn) but simply that they're improving) on the field, we can see them winning games. Jake's wooing doesn't improve, and he doesn't really win any games with Lynn. Rather, he demands her phone number to leave her alone, he shows up at her place of work when that phone number turns out to be fake, and he follows her home from work only to find himself at a dinner party at her fiancé's
(which goes better than one might expect but basically present Jake as a guy still planning a future that he got shut out of when their relationship ended. Like his knees going bad--and I think this is a subplot in the sequel--he has to accept at some point that they won't get any better, and he should accept that he and Lynn might be over. I mean, she is engaged to someone else, and has boxes packed to move in with the guy when Jake ends up finally at her place.)
and then he just kinda lucks out and her fiancé gets written out of the film entirely, Lynn gives into nostalgia and comes to a game and, of course, that means she's all in on getting back together with Jake, cue the sex. Because, romantic comedy wants to paint it easy.

As it is, the romantic comedy side doesn't quite gel with the baseball story, either, because the timing is wrong. Lynn is introduced after the tryouts. Imagine Jake runs into Lynn right after he gets back into town, he's not even on the team yet, so he can't claim he's back, he can't claim anything definitive, and maybe he's mature enough or insecure enough to not be the bold asshole he is in the film. And, maybe don't have her engaged to someone else, because then what are we rooting for if we root for Jake to win her over?

We want some other guy's life to fall apart?

I think we're supposed to think Tom is awful, but he's polite, and he lets the conversation keep going even though he's got to realize, before his dinner party guests do, that Jake is openly talking about having kids with Lynn. He is a speed bump on the way to Lynn, and nothing more. But, imagine:

Jake's problem was that he cheated on Lynn. She says of Tom, "I've never found him in bed with a stewardess." And, of Jake: "You don't take anything seriously. Everything's a joke to you." And later in that same scene--the one in the library--"You'll always be the little boy who wouldn't grow up." (And, he still doesn't by the end of the film. His showing up at Lynn's place is the same bullshit he pulls by showing up at Tom's place. His threatening Dorn is hardly mature.)

Jake is introduced in bed with a woman whose face we don't even see. He's hung over, and passed out the wrong direction in his bed, which visually suggests this was probably a one-night stand. It coulda been worse. He's playing in a Mexican league and there's an extra departure scene in the script:
TAYLOR approaching his MANAGER. 
MANAGER 
Let's go, Taylor. You're up. 
TAYLOR 
Fine. Leave your uniform. 
TAYLOR 
But I changed at the motel. 
MANAGER  
Leave your uniform. 
TAYLOR coming out of the stadium, his bats and gloves over his shoulder. He has on his spikes and a pair of boxer shorts.
Stripped down is not an improvement on his prior scene, waking up with a sombrero on his face.

And he brags about being wanted by stewardesses when Lynn brings it up. His plotline with Lynn should not be about her realizing that moving on was a bad move. He should still be getting women coming up to him in bars like one approaches Vaughn at one point. Then, he has something to give up for Lynn. Instead, he's the old player with the bad knees and a failed relationship and he cannot really fix either of those things. He can just accept them.

Which, unfortunately, is more in line with Major League II's Jake Taylor.
 
 
 
 
 
Going for what you want is all well and good as a message, but when what you want has a life of its own, that shit is not up to you and you alone. The push harder approach is not the way to go. And, proclaiming in the locker room that now you should try to win the whole fucking thing is stupid, because what the hell were they trying to do before?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

jesus christ can’t hit a curveball

I actually watched Major League--today's movie in my childhood deconstruction's confused final weeks--just last year. As a movies-by-minutes podcaster, I participated in a charity trivia contest, and along with UHF, Major League was the topic one of the rounds. The final round was live at a movies-by-minutes get together in Portland, Oregon in August. This year's event has been cancelled because a pandemic makes such events problematic. This year was going to be in Philadelphia. I don't think I've ever been there.

Maybe next year.


Meanwhile, Rachel Phelps wants to move the Cleveland Indians to Miami, so she has called for some very specific recruits for this year's team, slackers, nobodies, has-beans, weirdos.

Jake Taylor is hungover in Mexico when he gets the call. His knees are shot. But, he' supposed to be a catcher.

Rick Vaughn is in prison when he gets the call.

Eddie Harris has to put, among other things, snot on the ball, to pitch how he wants to.

Pedro Cerrano is into voodoo, which in a film out of 1989 is its only kind of problem even before we know he also can't hit for shit.

Willie Mays Hayes really wants to be there. Also, he's fast but has a problem hitting pop flies.
Roger Dorn is just full of himself.

And, manager Lou Brown is a has been.

The thing is, none of them know they are supposed to be losing. So, they take steps to get better.
Meanwhile, we've got a series of fans and groundskeepers offering their opinions on what's going on every so often, and unlike the raccoons last week in The Great Outdoors this feels like a cohesive part of the film. Probably because fans matter in baseball.

What surprised me watching the film now is that Lynn Wells (Jake's former fiancée) is introduced half an hour in. Like an afterthought. But then, Rachel has disappeared for most of that half hour as well. Baseball is mostly a sport for men, especially in pop culture, But, both women drive parts of the story in ways that feel like they deserve more screen time. Rachel will be back later when the team starts winning, of course.

Harry Doyle, the announcer, is announced a few minute after Lynn and he's probably a far more memorable part of this film...

And, I'm distracted by my lack of interest, generally, in sports films, and specifically, in baseball movies. I mean, something like The Sandlot--that's awesome. But, I'm not one of those guys that gets all emotional about Field of Dreams and, if you read my entries on The Natural (1338 1339) you'll see that movie is worthy, for me, of the kind of treatment I gave Mandy on my podcast Mandy Sucks Minute... Which, I hope you can tell from the title that I wasn't very nice to that movie. For the record, there was one minute of the film where I didn't find anything notable to complain about.
One.

I did grow up watching baseball, but mostly because for a good while, we only had one good TV, and on a Friday night--seventh-day adventist cultists that we were--if there was anything being watched it was baseball. I guess God was okay with baseball on the Sabbath. Or, as American Christians, my parents were okay with a little hypocrisy if it supported their immediate interests.

I knew players' names in the 80s. I gradually stopped paying attention through the 90s. I think I may have mentioned in this blog before how a couple times in the 90s I went to Dodgers games just because my sisters didn't want to drive, and I brought a book along to read. Star Wars books, actually, as my childhood interest had more content coming in the 90s than it had in the 80s. (For a while in the 90s, I read everything Star Wars.) And, I'd still go for an all beef Dodger Dog at the game, and some peanuts, maybe a chocolate malt. Anything for an excuse to stand in line when not reading, I guess.

And, baseball movies are not often much better than baseball games. Shorter, of course. But, other than that time Jeremy had to edit a highlight reel of a baseball game for the first time on Sports Night and he just kept including too much because you needed the drama of the game, I don't know--I just can't care much about a sport where people stand around half the time. I mean, I tried out for varsity baseball in high school, woulda been a pretty good fielder (and hitter) too. But, watching it is not my thing...

Yet, I can watch people play Dungeons & Dragons on Critical Role most Thursday nights and that surely is boring AF for most people.

Baseball movies should be interesting. Sports movies should be exciting. But, so many repetitive tropes in your average sports film that they are all very much the same. But then, that's a complain about any genre, isn't it? I don't know why sports movies are so low in my interests, really. Or why this particular one still works for me. Maybe it's act two dividing its screentime between Jake's pursuit of Lynn and the Indians' playing getting gradually better. Maybe it's something else. Hal Hinson, reviewing for the Washington Post calls the movie "shamelessly formulaic" but concedes (then drifts right back into insult):
At the begin, when it uses Randy Newman's ode to Cleveland ("City of light, city of magic"), the movie has a lovely tone, and briefly, you feel a surge of anticipation, as if the people making it might actually have an original point of view or some feel for the game. All hope is dashed, though, early on, when you realize that they are cannibalizing every other baseball movie. (Newman wrote the music for "The Natural.") This is movie-making by rip-off.
Which all that may sound negative, but maybe it's why, out of all the baseball movies that ever were, this one works for me. It takes the good from the other ones, dips it all in chaos, and has some fun with it.

With Jake's creepy stalker behavior as a partial throughline. Which is the kind of thing I should be harping on. Maybe I will go there tomorrow. In the meantime, Jason Daugherity already went off on it in great detail over at Mandatory. My deconstruction time is counting down. I can't cover everything.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

just because the road is rocky

Opening shots are of Quigley's cowboy implements. His boot. His bedroll. His saddle. His rope. His belt and cartridges. Plus, his hands, nails short. His knife. His rifle sliding into its case.Spurs going into a bag. His pocket watch. His hat. And then the map. The setup is simple enough. We've got a cowboy on our hands traveling to a faraway land, but the piecemeal shots maybe suggest a deconstruction at play. Reminds me of, at the same time, the gearing up sequence in Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and the fictitious magical costuming in Chaplin.

One of the first things Quigley does, before he's even off the ship that brought him to Australia, is, on the behalf of an old woman, hit another guy between the legs with his gun. We've got basic masculine cowboy imagery, and then a nice hit to the balls to drive home the idea that... well, either we've got a serious man on our hands here, or we've got something very much else. Next thing he does is save Cora and set up their dynamic for the rest of of the film. He's a cowboy but he isn't dirty, isn't a scoundrel like Marston's men. He's more a gentleman, more like an old-school cinematic cowboy than one from the 80s. (Keep in mind, this movie was supposed to come in the early 80s originally.) He's clean. He takes care of what's his. But also, he rolls his own cigarettes and smokes them.

But, about that fight... Quigley of course, puts little effort into it. He uses his leather-wrapped rifle as a club and he does so almost elegantly. More a chivalrous knight than some dusty cowboy. And we could read into his initial chivalry in interesting ways, if we look to Lee Clark Mitchell's Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film:
Even the Western's classical moment of unleashed violence is descriptively coded as a moment of displaced sexuality; when the prose perspective or camera angle turns to focus on a hand hovering over a gun. This splitting of the body into parts with typical "gear" offers more than a fetishizing displacement of inadmissible homoeroticism desires... The "oscillation" (of aimlessly gazing/not gazing) upon which costuming is based marks a potential for disrupting the body into costumed parts and anticipates the ways that manhood will be emblematic ally stretched, distorted, and slowly rehabilitated.
And, of course Roger calls that shootout at the end of the film as "some kind of dumb test of manhood." But, that is the point, isn't it? The villain--especially Marston, owner of land, owner of people, and he wants to be an American cowboy because he idolizes them--is always going to bring everything around to a challenge of who is the bigger man. It is how he values himself. A real man owns things. A real man tells people what to do. And they do it. Matthew Quigley, on the other hand, has a specific skill set and he uses it to get by. He came to Australia for a job, that job turns out to be murdering natives, he turns it down. This makes him, in the eyes of someone like Marston, not a real man. A real man would get done what needs to be done, which includes conquering the wild land and wild people.

And the wild woman. But I will get to her soon.


This image is after the camera is rising for Quigley to finally shoot. He has been framed larger than the other men, and also shot from below. He is being offered visually as something grand and special. Right as he is about to make three remarkable shots in a row with his specially-made rifle. His phallic symbol, with which he acts patiently, deliberately.

And, what does Marston do right after? He sets up his chance to gun down the two deserters his men have found on his land, because now it is a dick-measuring contest as it were, and while Quigley might have the longer rifle, Marston takes two lives while Quigley just ruined a bucket. At dinner thereafter, Marston interrogates Quigley about his familiarity with the Colt pistols that Marston wears. He is testing Quigley still and is about to be defied.

Mitchell suggests, regarding "the cowboy as an object of desire":
...the cowboy's job, consisting of moments of excitement embedded in hours of waiting and riding, reflected larger assumptions about masculinity, in terms of constrained violence; during an era of increasing anxiety over constructions of family life, he was conspicuously without family; in openly displaying guns, he appeared radically individual...
The cowboy, especially in cinema, is a vision of idealized American manliness. Quigley is explicitly something else. He defies Marston, sure, he kicks Marston out of his own house, but then he gets his ass handed to him by Marston's men and gets left in the outback to die. In that earlier fight in town, he seems to be beating the three men handily until Cora gets involved and knocks him down. Then, he gets beaten. He gets beaten, but also, he is resilient enough to keep going. He is at once a deconstructionist cowboy figure and a reconstructionist cowboy figure. Mitchell suggests:
...the Western can be reduced to oppositions between those who stand and those who fall down--between upright men on horseback and those whose supposedly "natural" position is prone. The prone are always revealed in the end to be non-men...
But, Quigley is knocked down repeatedly before he stands up. Of course, Mitchell, citing "Film critics... as if in choir", suggests an interpretation of
the Western's concentration on the male body as disguised, displaced, inadmissible homosexual pleasure, and that the beatings so often sustained by the hero are to be understood in these term as punishment of the audience for what it cannot allow itself openly to enjoy... In other words, the erotic potential of the male physique can only be embellished when suppressed--a suppression regularly achieved through the open administration of pain.
Marston is knocked down once by Quigley early on, but remains standing until the end.

So then we turn to Will Wright's Sixguns & Society, and see that Quigley Down Under fits the "classical" Western plot--
  1. The hero enters a social group.
  2. The hero is unknown to the society.
  3. The hero is revealed to have an exceptional ability.
  4. The society recognizes a difference between themselves and the hero; the hero is given a special status.
  5. The society does not completely accept the hero.
  6. There is a conflict of interests between the villains and the society.
  7. The villains are stronger than the society; the society is weak.
  8. There is a strong friendship or respect between the hero and a villain.
  9. The villains threaten the society.
  10. The hero avoids involvement in the conflict.
  11. The villains endanger a friend of the hero.
  12. The hero fights the villains.
  13. The hero defeats the villains.
  14. The society is safe.
  15. The society accepts the hero.
  16. The hero loses or gives up his special status. (48-9)  
--except only if "the society" is the Aborigines, which again, upends what the Western is usually telling us.

Meanwhile, we have our wild woman, Crazy Cora. She obviously suffers from PTSD and is frequently delusional, but go back to her introductory scene again and what do we have? A troubled woman, on her own far from home, is being claimed as a prostitute. Maybe she has been working as one; we don't know. But, she does not want to go, and then she is pronounced Crazy Cora. And, her madness is framed throughout the film as a defense mechanism above all else. She lost her child, her husband rejected her and sent her away. Now, she vacillates between seeing this new man in her life as an embodiment of the husband she once had and some brand new potential suitor.

Magda Romanska describes the "romantic trope of a madwoman" in Boston Lyric Opera's blog, 30 April 2014. She writes (citing Hamana 1995):
The obligatory mad scene had its origins in a Renaissance theatrical convention of representing "mad women as erotomaniacs. This is based on masculine assumption that women are more inclined to go mad since they are closer to the irrational by nature, and that young women's madness is, more often than not, caused by sexual frustration of unrequited love.
But, counter that with more modern ideas, and this pronouncement of madness is more like calling out the woman who says "no" as a slut. Cora rejects Marston's men. Thus, she is crazy. She must be crazy. They work for Marston, who is a real man. By extension, they must be real men, or close to it. Quigley makes no such assumptions about her, only looks to her immediate safety, and thus frames himself as, again, not a real man in the usual, western (and Western) sense.

But, it's 1990, and we've come through a decade of muscle-bound, manly men fighting lesser men, foreigners mostly. We are in need of a man who is not a real man, as it were. We want someone capable, but he does not need to be particularly dominant. He must win in the end. But, by his wits, by learned skill, not simply by being physically strong. Consider the transition just through 80s action stars from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis and Jean Claude Van Damme. There is still notable, noticeable musculature, but we expect something more than just brute force. We want more balletic action, we want demonstrations of intelligence, of refined taste, of charm even. Matthew Quigley is the deconstruction of the Western (and western) hero, but also, ultimately, a reconstruction. The film ends, as many a Western might, with our male hero connecting with the female lead, reifying heteronormative behavior even as deliberately, explicitly redefining and recontextualizing the maleness of our hero and the femaleness of his love interest.