Wednesday, February 28, 2018

together we’re stronger than apart

One more time: Suburban Sasquatch. If you found your way here because you'd seen it, good for you. You have seen one of the greatest films of all time. If you have not seen it, I am sorry. But, hey, stick around. I will try to take the film quite seriously.

Even though Rick (Bill Ushler) doesn't know his lines and thinks he cannot act without also moving constantly. And that makes it hard to take his character seriously.

Today's topic: Bigfoot is intersex. See, Bigfoot has notable breasts. And, according to behind-the-scenes footage, the costume choices were quite deliberate and extensive. Bigfoot also has a penis; though you can only barely see it in the film, it is visible in behind-the-scenes footage. Additionally, the coy lack of detail when Talla asks Megan what Bigfoot did to her suggests some sort of sexual violation.

When every modern film (unless it is specifically impossible, e.g. some war film where the entire cast is men) eventually hinges on showing man and woman get together. The classic wedding ending. There's no literal wedding here, but Talla's second battle predicted by her grandfather at the start of the film, she figures, is staying (or going away) with Rick and trying an actual romantic relationship. She and Rick walk off into the sunset (or at least away from the camera) to end the film.

In the backstory, John has been fleeing his own wife's death at the hands of Bigfoot (in Oregon), only to end up in Woodstown (Pennsylvania) where Bigfoot (a la Jaws the Revenge) is back. Talla has foregone a regular life, with a potential husband and kids, to protect people. And, Rick has written stories that have not won him a Pulitzer, regularly visiting his grandmother when he's stuck, because apparently he has little else in his life; his apartment has very little decoration.

In the present, Steve calls in a bunch of hunters (I guess). "We're men," they proclaim before opening fire on Bigfoot and getting themselves killed. Men cannot beat Bigfoot. Nor can Talla on her own. But, man with woman can finally beat nature, form a social bond that is more powerful than some wild beast.

So, basically, Suburban Sasquatch is a critique of intersex individuals, while also equating them with nature. The film sides with civilization. It sides with one man, one woman, ending up together.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

is it not your life to decide?

I will be up front about this. I am watching Suburban Sasquatch again rather than get back to High Road to China. It's just so fun.

Also, I saw Every Day today's--long time readers of this blog might recognize the name. I wrote about David Levithan's book back when it was still Groundhog Day every day. In particular, I quoted this bit:

What is it about the moment you fall in love? How can such a small measure of time contains such enormity? I suddenly realize why people believe in deja by, why people they've lived past lives, because there is no way the years I've spent on this earth could possibly encapsulate what I'm feeling. The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations--all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secrets arrows were points here, the universe and time itself crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are now just arriving at the place you were always meant to be.

Suburban Sasquatch is not a love story, but in the end Rick and Talla do head off together, ostensibly to fight more monsters or whatever. The terms are vague. But, as if this were a product of Hollywood and not an independent feature out of Pennsylvania, they do get together romantically. Talla starts the film with a grander purpose--to rid the island (?) of monsters, to protect people even if it means she can never have a normal life. Meanwhile, Rick dreams of a Pulitzer, but he's stuck in this little town... Not unlike Phil Connors in that respect, I guess. He wants for bigger and better things. Jackson (Dave Sitbon) says Rick has his head in the clouds but his feet on the ground, and predicts that he'll have no future as a reporter. Rick feels stuck. Talla convinces him to just go for it. And to fight the Sasquatch.

The thing is, while the script is lacking in much depth, and several scenes seem horribly ad-libbed (like the opening scene with the couple driving through the woods to go to a party), it's trying to say something about a person's purpose. Timmy's mother is taken because she protects her son. John is keeping the story details from Rick because he (John) wants personal revenge against the Sasquatch. Rick wants the big story to get out of Woodstown, Pennsylvania. Talla has her greater purpose and helps Rick achieve his. They have several poorly crafted conversations about it. The Room is about loyalty and love. Troll 2 is about hospitality and family. Suburban Sasquatch is about responsibility and purpose. Bad movies may be bad, but at least they (sometimes) have something to say. Why else would people rope in everybody they know and spend all their spare time filming things like this? They believe in it. Dave Wascavage, director and writer of Suburban Sasquatch puts Rick's grandma (Loretta Wascavage, I'm guessing Dave's own real-life grandmother) into the film for a reason. She points Rick to God, Rick asks God or Nature for a sign, and Steve calls him about the latest dead body.

John's big flashback with the Sasquatch taking his wife Celia (Michelle Hanna) includes a notable detail. Celia wears a cross on a necklace, over her heart. When the Sasquatch appears in front of her on the porch, Celia grabs at the cross. The symbolism is almost too obvious here. Timmy's mom--driven by love. John--driven by love. Rick--eventually driven by love. (Although when he moves to kiss Talla, the thunderbird interrupts with a sign because the Sasquatch is in town again. He can't even do that right.)






The film covers what seems like a few days but a few lines of dialogue suggest is a few weeks. Yet, no one has more than one outfit, except for Talla. Rick wears the same jeans and the same t-shirt through the entire film. Talla wears a skirt and blouse (that approximate a native dress, sort of) in the first half of the film. Then she changes into pants and a tank top, becoming more civilized in appearance, and also more masculine. This fits with my comparison of the film to a slasher film. She's the Cloverian final girl, except Rick has to save her in the end. Which might be problematic except that he can only save her by finally embracing her beliefs and copying her native methods of healing that she previously used on him. Structurally, we've got a slasher film, but we've also got something much bigger--the encroachment of modern civilization into nature, and our responsibility to take care of one another.

But, Rick has a relapse. Talla packs up to leave, to find her next battle. He asks her to stay. And, she sort of does. The actual ending suggests that she will stay with him, though he does offer to go with her, she's got some lame bit of dialogue about how this might be the next battle. Something about love being a battle against nothing, or nothingness. It's the big ending of the film and the scene is not well miked. They walk off together, but I think she's going with him and not the other way around. It's the Hollywood thing--the man and woman at the center of the story must end up a romantic couple because that is how we know the universe is in order.

Still, I like it imagine that a few miles away, another Sasquatch is killing people but Talla is now neglecting her tribal duties because she decided that her next battle was love.

Monday, February 26, 2018

not everyone follows those ideals

And then I skipped the scheduled film for a day because 1) I can and b) it will line up better with March 2nd being a Groundhog Day day. Instead of watching High Road to China again and try to justify its stakes, I am watching a horrible film that I have never seen in its entirety before. (I have seen parts of it online, particularly because Red Letter Media did an entire "Best of the Worst" episode about it. The film is Suburban Sasquatch.

It starts with bad acting and lazy filming, and then the Sasquatch arrives and hilarity ensues. But, not on purpose. The hilarity is these two getting killed.

Then insert a badly animated CGI hawk and a (supposedly) Native American woman, Talla (Sue Lynn Sanchez) who is going to do battle. The details are vague.

Insert cops, Steve (Juan Fernandez) and John (Dave Bonavita, who also plays the Sasquatch). And a reporter, Rick (Bill Ushler). The cops mention nearby property development and we should know right away there is an environmental theme here. Or there is trying to be.

Two fisherman, who don't seem to have fishing line, get killed next. [One survives, apparently, after getting his friend's arm thrown at him and falling into the river. He wakes up later.] This is where I decide for sure that I love this film.

The reporter talks to his editor (Troy Stephen Sanders)... In what is clearly a high school newspaper room. They are trying. the editor even seems to have his lines memorized; the reporter obviously glances at his script from time to time, pretending it's his "story".

And next we have one of the best lines in cinematic history. A mother tells her son, who saw the Sasquatch in the back yard, that monsters aren't real, "like the boogeyman or your father, they're not really there," she tells him.

Talla shows up again and this scene was not miked. She says... something to the hawk flying overhead.

The amazing thing is that they clearly did some foley work... Or added some purchased sound effects anyway. Two woman hiking in the woods have a conversation that is barely audible--because, again, no mic--but their steps on the leaves on the ground make plenty of noise.

Talla shoots the Sasquatch (with a bad CGI arrow), it runs away, she just says "Damn it" and gives up. And, the film I was billing--to myself mostly--as one of the worst movies ever made is turning out to be one of the greatest. I mean, it never won any awards, nor should it, but there is some deeper meaning in that moment, about the futility of standing up to nature. Like that moment before with Timmy and his mother was all about how we proclaim a certain reality and when something messes with that reality, we have to reject it. Our world is our world, there are rules we learn as kids and the world must stick to them. Otherwise, what good is civilization? What good is school? What good is language? Suburban Sasquatch is basically a deconstruction of our sense of civilization, of the divisions between human society and nature. Talla, with her hawk spirit guide, is somewhere in between, but even she sees the futility of chasing after something like Sasquatch.

Plus, structurally, this is essentially a slasher film, which is my cinematic bread and butter.

Meanwhile, as I'm thinking of grabbing some Carol Clover to make this really serious, Rick goes to visit his grandmother and she is awesomely bad. She pronounces the arrowhead he found odd and tells him to go back where he found it and God will let him know what to do. So, now we've got Christian spirituality added to the mix on the side of civilization here.

Next we have a guy looking for his dog Muffy. Muffy gets ripped in half by the Sasquatch. Then the guy is killed. And we hardly got to know him. But, still, him and his domesticated pet are clearly symbolic, an affront to a wild creature like the Sasquatch.

Then we get a juxtaposition of the Sasquatch eating someone's leg and some woman eating a hot dog. We don't need to know who she is for the deeper connections to become obvious. We're all just consumers, but we (humans) have taken it too far. And, nature is not going to put up with it for long.

So many mainstream movies, with actual budgets and real actors, don't bother to be about anything, but this movie goes all in. Talla and Rick talk about societal norms and so much more. Talla has a mission and doesn't want to settle down and get a husband. Rick is an idiot. Rick is also skeptical, but then he sees the Sasquatch. Who can disappear at will and make psychic attacks on people, and produce fog. It's all very... gloriously strange.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

it was always a wreck

High Road to China makes sure pretty quickly that we understand it's the 1920s. Old cars, men in suits, and flappers. Vincent Canby explains, High Road to China "is set in a sort of mythical 'Roaring 20's,' which can be immediately identified because a young woman is seen doing a mad Charleston in an early scene."

Also, some guy gets shot in the opening scene and I have no idea who he was.

Eve (Bess Armstrong), the young woman dancing the Charleston, needs to find her father before he dies or his business partners will have him declared dead and take his business. She needs a plane for this and hooks up with O'Malley (Tom Selleck). That's the setup. Simple. She's a "society dame", he's an alcoholic. They head (initially) for Afghanistan (from Istanbul) and, well, basically, this is an adventure plot with a romance sprinkled in.

Half an hour in, I gotta agree with Roger Ebert's conclusion:

"High Road to China" is not a terrible movie, but it's a lifeless one. It follows some of the forms of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" without ever finding the comic rhythms. It's directed at a nice, steady pace, but without flair and without the feeling that any things being risked. And it tells such an absolutely standard story that we never fear for the characters and we hardly ever believe them.

We can almost believe O'Malley when they land... somewhere, a British airfield, and he's recounting tales of being a pilot in the war, and someone asks him about Verdun. He got 12 kills in one week, which sounds impressive, but he doesn't speak of it proudly. He explains that the Germans had nothing but schoolboys to send out by Verdun, so he was killing schoolboys who couldn't even fly loops. It's a nice moment, with more import to it than, say, that guy Charlie (Michael Sheard) who works for her father getting killed. It could have been even better if the rest of the film felt like it was trying to be as serious.

And, I am having trouble gauging just how offensive the portrayal of locals in... Wherever the next stop is. Brian Blessed's character is called Suleman Khan, but the film doesn't tell us where we are. Hell, I only knew it was Istanbul in the beginning because the Internet told me so. I guess we're in Afghanistan at this point because Khan tells Eve that her father is dead. Some woman--maybe Khan's wife? Seriously, this film does not make relationships or locations very clear. Anyway, this woman tells Eve that her father is actually alive.

(Regarding the offensive portrayal, Canby suggests, Blessed's portrayal "recalls the racial and religious prejudices of an earlier era of movie-making." i.e. casual racism and cultural simplification, because what do we care?)

Meanwhile, it feels a little too much like the point of this movie (not the point of its plot, mind you) is for O'Malley to show Eve that her society life has kept her from knowing how the world really is. He slaps her as a display when Khan gets mad. He blows smoke in her face after being offered a fortune to sell her. Eve is a selfish brat, as O'Malley sees her, and it feels like the movie agrees. But, it hasn't really made the argument very well. She is a capable pilot. Her tactics with the English commander work just as well as O'Malley with the guy's men. She manages to talk to Khan's wife (?) after he talks to Khan. It's like the movie wants to tear them both down while simultaneously telling us how capable they both are.

Finally, we hear some specific locations--Eve and O'Malley are on the way to Kathmandu, India--in an interlude back in Istanbul with Bentik (Robert Morley), the partner of her father's who wants her dead. These scenes serve little purpose. With a better director or better actor, Bentik would be less buffoonish and more frightening... I'm actually imagining Christopher Plummer a la All the Money in the World in the role right now and that works quite nicely.

For some reason... Assume that most anything in this film can be described with a sentence that starts with those words: for some reason. For some reason, once they're in India (?), Eve gets sick. O'Malley holds her in his arms at one point, and she gets angry at him when she wakes up with him in her bed. But, none of this would happen if she hadn't randomly gotten sick. It's cheap. There are better ways to get these characters to clash.






Aliya Whiteley, writing for Den of Geeks points out the score as one of the movie's failings. It doesn't "gear you up to take on the world", Whiteley explains. It's kind of boring, I would say. And, the one music line that keeps repeating feels like a rejected knockoff of the theme to Superman. [What is probably the "love theme" later is actually kinda nice.]






When one plane is destroyed, they leave Struts (Jack Weston) behind, and I realize that his character wasn't very useful. (Notice, I haven't mentioned him before now.)

Some nice flying footage over the Himalayas plays, then we're with Bentik again. And finally, China. And Eve's father is played by Wilford Brimley--and since I already mentioned Roger's review, I should mention that he takes the time to explain who Brimley is, so I guess the guy was not as much a household name just yet in 1983 as he would be later, particularly after the tv series Our House, and very much after all of his diabetes commercials. It's a nice performance, and like Private Ryan so many years later, he has less interest in being rescued than fighting the local war. (Which is happening for some reason.)

Saturday, February 24, 2018

we’ve jumped the shark

I've mentioned before in this blog the sound effect I call Wilhelm's Car Horn. I'm watching This Is Us right now (the episode after the Super Bowl one--I got a little behind on tv with classes starting and then olympics stuff to watch) and they just had a Wilhelm's Car Horn. Randall is learning to drive, almost runs a STOP sign and a delivery truck swerves out of the way while honking. Try that some time. Swerve your car abruptly while honking. Even if you could manage to do both at the same time, you wouldn't. Not in the moment.

This sound effect was already on my mind because I was thinking about writing about the movie I saw this morning--Game Night--and their use of Wilhelm's Car Horn was just one of the little details that annoyed me. That movie isn't bad. The plot moves along nicely, and there are a few good laughs. But...

And, here is where an interesting thought struck me. I wrote last week about Black Panther, and I said the movie "is good. It isn't great." After saying lots of nice things about the movie and about the real world implications of it. I mean, I liked the movie. And, it's maybe the best Marvel film yet (Winter Soldier hits some cinematic buttons that I really like so that one holds a nice place for me, and Guardians of the Galaxy is just so fun, that Black Panther is in the top three at least for me). But, then I see a piece at The Root that includes a line about white critics who "thought the movie was good but not great, and ranked it somewhere in the middle of the 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe films that have been released since 2008."

Color me another white critic. Even though I do not claim to review films here in this blog, of course. I respond to them, react to them, pick them apart and put them back together.

I also try to acknowledge the difference between my opinion of a film, an objective sense of it, and (sometimes) the importance of it. Some movies, regardless of their quality, make an impact on the world. When an impactful film also happens to be really good, that's a bonus. Wonder Woman, Black Panther , Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, to name a few from the past year.

Now, how did this "interesting thought" that probably feels quite unrelated strike me? When I first heard about Game Night, I wasn't excited for a silly comedy that visually looked a bit too much like Horrible Bosses or Office Christmas Party--and that, maybe just because Jason Bateman is in all three. I was excited because the idea of a bunch of friends getting together for a game night and then everything goes crazy sounded awesome. My friends and I have game nights--haven't had one in a while, though, I must point out in case any of them are reading this entry--and get together for other nerdy things. I talked about this stuff two days ago when I should have been talking about Mr. Mom. But, I do that; I drift away from movies all the time in this blog, write about other things that are on my mind with the film of the day being more of an excuse to write than anything else.

Recently, I have also sped up this childhood deconstruction exercise that has taken over Phase Four of this blog. I hit 1983 and I'm trying to limit myself to just two viewings of each film instead of three (or more). It's hard to run with that limitation and allow for distractions, though.

Today is more of an interruption than a distraction.

I also saw Annihilation yesterday, and that is worth writing about, too. But, I won't get to it. For this blog's terms, I really would have had to get to it yesterday, or I'd have to go see it again. Short take: good film with some great science fiction bits and some amazing horror moments.

(Interruption: I've got Kevin Probably Saves the World on right now, and Nate just suddenly didn't have his keys when he had to sneak out of the house and just this week, I mentioned to someone in a thread on Twitter about a pet peeve of mine with movies and tv--namely, that characters always have their keys and wallets on them unless the plot specifically doesn't want them to. People leave in a hurry, and it is rare that you see them grabbing their keys or their wallets or putting on shoes, because everyone wears shoes all the time unless the plot includes a scene that is about the shoes.

Game Night, given the premise, didn't have this(these) problem(s) much. Except for the main couple. I mean, when I would host game nights at my place in grad school, I would not normally have my shoes on, or my keys or wallet in my pockets, because, you know, I was at home...

Although, oddly timed, slightly ironic timing: I happen to be sitting on the floor in the living room right now, with my shoes on. But, to be fair, it has been rather cold in LA this week, and when I got home from the movie, I left my shoes and socks on, left my extra layers on--I even have a scarf on. This moment is an exception, though, not the norm. I generally take the shoes off when I get home. Socks don't last long once shoes are off, because I don't like wearing them... Even if I do own a whole bunch of nerdy socks that I like wearing, along with my needy t-shirts, when I'm out.)

I'm speeding up because, I think I'm starting to feel like moving on again.

But, I was talking about Game Night and its flaws that I took personally, wasn't I?

For example, Max (Bateman) brings three games to his brother's place when his brother (Kyle Chandler) asks to host game night for a change, and he brings Scrabble, Clue, and The Game of Life. 1) Except for brief clips early in the film of previous game nights, these people only ever play charades or pictionary, which is already a sad game night. 2) There are seven players at this game night; you cannot play Scrabble with seven people, Clue would be awkward and even more annoyingly long than usual with seven people and would be lame with teams, and no one over the age of 10 should be playing The Game of Life (unless they happen to be playing with their kid who is not over the age of 10). The games they play are not even that important to the plot of the film. That they have a weekly-ish game night is just the setup. But, was there no one involved in this film who exists in the 21st century and plays games? I mean, under the main titles, we've got Monopoly pieces and dice (which is fine) but just one damn meeple? Not that the film needed to appropriate newer games or, hell, even aim for some product placement, but it's filmed in 2017, right? People with a regular game night should be playing Codenames or Spyfall, maybe something serious like Eldritch Horror or Betrayal at House on the Hill. Or Catan; tons of people have played Catan by now. Or Secret Hitler. Or Exploding Cats. They've got too many players for a good co-op like Pandemic, but how about just to catch the viewer's eyes and let us know these people are serious about tabletop gaming, you at least have some interesting dice somewhere at the edge of the table, like they just played some Zombie Dice or King of Tokyo. They specifically say that they don't play drinking games--they're more classy than that--or there would be a bunch of better party games they could be playing instead of pictionary or charades. At least--minor joke SPOILERS--their skill at charades actually comes into play at the final climax of act three. But, imagine a more intelligent (but, yes, geeky) script in which at least their knack for bar trivia matters to the story more than just being a flashback to how Max and Annie (Rachel McAdams) met. Imagine a script in which some in-joke about a time they all played Munchkin or they embrace the skill sets of their Mice and Mystics characters to work together in the end, or something with far more depth than the film actually manages. Instead, it's a poor man's The Game, if that David Fincher film got together with something like Identity Thief and gave birth to this one. And, you throw in an entirely unconnected subplot about a wife who--SPOILERS--thinks she had sex with Denzel Washington just before she and her husband got married. And, an extra twist that is almost clever, but then there's a joke extra twist that ruins it a little.

But anyway, this is my brain on movies.

Really, this is just my brain all the time. I might have built up a resistance to movies long ago, which is why I've had to up the dosage over the years.

So, probably, tomorrow, I will watch the next movie on my 1983 list--High Road to China, which it has been so long since I've seen it I'm not entirely sure what the plot even is; I know there's a pilot, and a woman who hires him, and they fall in love, and it's Tom Selleck as poor man's Indiana Jones, maybe. Or, maybe I'll take a week off from the childhood deconstruction because the Oscars are next week and I should try to produce something like a state of the industry, or just a measure of the award-worthy films... Like my multi-part diatribe about #OscarsSoWhite (and related Oscars stuff):

We'll see.

Friday, February 23, 2018

it means something to raise human beings

So, right away, a complaint: the introduction of the woobie is lazy. Kenny has presumably had the woobie for, like, his whole life. Alex knows not to mess with it, and probably messes with it all the time. But, Caroline warns him not to touch it, as if it's something new...

And, this is John Hughes writing, so I'm a little disappointed.

Of course, later moments, like the entire Rocky conversation, or the recipe sharing (though something about the scorching butter line feels off to me), or the poker game, make up for that. And, there are little bits all over this movie that are great examples of writing. The "disability" gag with Larry (Christopher Lloyd).

(Side note: I feel sorry for Tom Leopold, who plays Stan. He's in scenes with Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, and Jeffrey Tambor, and I'm like, Who's this other guy?.)

Jack's growing interest in The Young and the Restless. The 220, 221 exchange. "I'm going to sleep on the fat couch, if I can fit through the door." And, coming back to the woobie, there's Jack trying to talk Kenny into giving it up:

I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they're great... And they are; they are terrific. But, pretty soon, a woobie isn't enough. You're on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you're strung out on bedspreads, Ken. That's serious.

That is great.

Mr. Mom builds itself on a foundation of sexist stereotypes but, as I said yesterday, it does so to deliberately tear them back down. The film celebrates mothers by running with the stereotypical father who cannot handle household chores or taking care of the kids... Until he figures all of that out. It plays with silly moments like Caroline cleaning up the table at her first board meeting or cutting Ron's steak for him without thinking about it; these moments are silly but do serve a purpose as well. Housewife Caroline (who has worked before, mind you) is programmed to clean up after people. It's ingrained after eight years at home, raising kids.

Same societal programming that has Jack feeling emasculated by losing his job, and comparing his manhood to Ron's (Martin Mull) even though he hasn't seen how Ron has been lusting after Caroline. Another man in his wife's life is a problem, because society says so.

It also allows us to laugh at some rather offensive bits, or appreciate the triumphant music when Jack gets his shit together. We shouldn't laugh at the affair jokes, or some of the role reversal jokes. But, we get to because we, too, have been programmed.






The movie works, still. Take it as in its time and place and it's reliance on sexist tropes aren't that bad.

Even though the economic and patriotic notes, especially in the end, paint the film into a corner the reifies the ideal American family by twisting it...

And, I think I said some version of that same sentence yesterday. But remember that in the end, Jack is getting his job back and Caroline has quit hers.

Still, what matters today is what did this film offer me when I was seven? The roles of father and mother are interchangeable. Men don't have to be men. Women don't have to be women.

But, I guess kids still need a mother and a father and marriage is one man and one woman and all that programmed crap that I would get over sometime later. Mr. Mom movie tries to be subversive, but it's too busy trying to make jokes to really manage the subversion.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

pretty soon, a woobie isn’t enough

Mr. Mom is a progressive film for 1983. Give us the typical American family with husband, wife, two and a half kids. Nice conservative vision to open up--the husband works, the wife stays home. But, then Jack (Michael Keaton) loses his job at the automotive factory and everything falls apart.

Now, in addition to this being one of the films we watched a lot when I was a kid, this film has other connections, too. For example, the story went back when this movie came out, that my mother actually heard about an open casting call for the two boys. And she considered taking me to audition. I'm seven months younger than Alex (Frederick Koehler) and a year older than Kenny (Taliesin Jaffe). Now, I'm not saying I was a cute kid but from time to time I might imagine since then that she took me and I was cast and my life went in a completely different direction.

Maybe I'd be playing on Critical Role tonight instead of sitting here watching it.

Let me explain that fantasy for those of you who are not Critters. Critical Role is a show every Thursday on Twitch where a "bunch of nerdy-add voice actors play Dungeons & Dragons." I generally watch it live every Thursday night. And one of those voice actors is Taliesin Jaffe, Kenny from Mr. Mom. For "season one" (115 episodes ranging from about three hours to five), Taliesin played Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, Percy for short, a human gunslinger with a dark past. In "season two" (tonight is episode 7), he plays Mollymauk Tealeaf, a tiefling blood hunter. In case I haven't mentioned it, my new D&D character debuting this Sunday, is Cecil Moody, a tortle bard. My last character (outside a one-shot) was a doppelgänger cleric named Cali pretending to be a water genasi sorcerer named Dolphine de Pointe du Lac. Before that, I was a tabaxi rogue warlock called Shade Beneath the Cliff, and before that...

You probably don't want to know all that. Unless you happened upon this particular blog entry because you're also a Critter. To you, fellow Critter, I might mention how my D&D friends and I went to the Renaissance Faire last year and just happened to be the same day that the cast of Critical Role was there. Taliesin, who has also spent time as a performer at the Renaissance Faire, was just a couple rows behind us while we watched one of the performances. Laura Bailey, another voice actor who is on Critical Role was right in front of me in line at lunch, and her husband Travis Willingham (who is also on Critical Role)--

(Quick sidenote interruption: it occurs to me that maybe it's strange that this movie uses the music from Chariots of Fire and at seven-years-old I get the reference, because I also saw that movie in the theater.)

(Sidenote to the sidenote: that thought had me wondering when Vacation used that music, and then I realized that I had not yet put my 1983 films in specific release date order, and the coincidence of getting to Mr. Mom on a Thursday, i.e. Critical Role day, is just happenstance of the order I typed up the list and not the "proper" viewing order...

My 1983 order should have been:

  • High Road to China
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Octopussy and Trading Places came out the same day
  • Staying Alive
  • Mr. Mom
  • Krull and Vacation came out the same day

So, I will adjust accordingly after I finish with Mr. Mom.)

And, I interrupted myself mid sentence. The Travis Willingham thing was actually kinda funny. See, on season one of Critical Role he played a goliath barbarian called Grog Strongjaw, and I see a guy (I don't immediately recognize him for who he is) in the food court area at Ren Faire that I'm thinking has a great Grog-vibe going on. I only realize a few minutes later that it was Travis Willingham himself that I just saw when I am behind his wife in line. When we passed the rest of the cast walking around, my friend Shari stepped up and said something to Matt Mercer (the DM for Critical Role); I think she said, "I love what you do," or something like that. Had we more time, and weren't just passing them in opposite directions right then, we might've explained how we were also a D&D group. Hell, Critical Role is what drew me to playing regularly...

And, I have said very little about Mr. Mom, I realize. I'm not sure that there is necessarily a lot to be said. Great comedic moments, relying on sexist stereotypes a bit but doing so deliberately. The film plays with gender roles, upends them, embraces them while also rejecting them. And, in the end, like many another comedy, it reinforces the status quo, just with that single, gendered twist.

The film also skirts the underlying setting--Detroit as car manufacturing is starting to die in this country. Jack loses his job because of economic realities that the film only barely wants to comment on. (It's interesting, for example, that after Jack kicks the TV and the tube has a hole in the front of it, he's getting it repaired rather than just buying a new one.) Caroline's (Teri Garr) eventual ad that gets her noticed at work ties directly to the economy, and the whole gender switch is very post-second-wave-feminism a la 9 to 5. The time and place is important to the setup, but not as much to the execution.

And there will always be more to say tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

from a certain point of view

And, of course, as I've said with the previous Star Wars films, Return of the Jedi put me on the side of rebellion. The powers that be get a little too authoritarian, you band together and revolt.

For the record, I jumped over to watching Return of the Jedi tonight after watching a CNN Town Hall about gun violence and school shootings. [And, throughout much of the film, there was a conversation going on in the next room about a lot of this stuff, too.] Future readers--on Valentine's Day, just one week ago, a 19-year-old expelled high school student returned to his school with a gun and killed 17 students and teachers and wounded 14 others. Surviving students have been rather outspoken, and if you don't know what side of this issue I come down on, you probably have not been following this blog; I do tend to get into political rants from time to time even under the guise of talking about movies because movies are inherently political, even if only to reinforce (or reject) cinematic standards and societal norms of the time in which they were made.

Return of the Jedi, because of George Lucas, is an echo of an earlier time, a nostalgic recreation of old serials like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon laid over mythic plot points taken from Joseph Campbell. Also, much of the plot of the original Star Wars (and the ending of Return of the Jedi somewhat) was inspired by Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. Writing for the Criterion Collection, Armond White explains: The Hidden Fortress was

a story both elaborate and simple. During feudal wartime, two farmers, Mataschichi and Tahei, have escaped prison camp and are scavenging the wilderness for gold...

Yada yada yada. There's a general. There's a princess. There's a scarred villain who has a change of heart. And...

The Hidden Fortress proves most distinctive when not merely reduced to genre type but rather appreciated for Kurosawa's unique, excited exhibition of nature and different human characters... The emotional satisfaction of this type of epic morality play in which behavior reveals personality proves how effective Kurosawa could be at combining action and purpose, morality and thrills.

With the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas seems more interested in the human element (not to be speciesest), that is, interested in the characters as people with inner lives, with their own individual motivations and histories. By the time of the prequel trilogy, Lucas' approach was, to my eye, more clinical. I forget which of the prequels had the behind-the-scenes bit--or maybe it was from an outside interview--in which Hayden Christensen talks about how Lucas actively told him not to emote too much in Attack of the Clones so the emotional climax of Revenge of the Sith would be more resonant. Which effectively turns Anakin, while we are still supposed to care about him as our protagonist, into a cold killer. A mass murderer even. Well before he becomes Darth Vader.

Something I really liked in The Last Jedi was how Luke had changed. I've seen many comments online about how he didn't feel like Luke anymore. Luke was basically a naive, brash, young man with a little bit of a hero complex in the original trilogy. That kind of guy can grow old in one of two ways, I think; he can become an arrogant ass who no one will want to spend time with, or he can learn humility and realize the being a hero is not something you need to, or should, aim for. Hamill's take, and the script's, in The Last Jedi puts Luke somewhere in the middle of the two. In Roger Ebert's review of the Special Edition of Star Wars, he wonders

if Lucas could have come up with a more challenging philosophy behind the Force. As Kenobi explains it, it's basically just going with the flow. What if Lucas had pushed it a little further, to include elements of nonviolence or ideas about intergalactic conservation?

Lucas was born in 1944, which made him just about the right age to join in with more radical student groups when he was in college. Find himself caught up in the Civil Rights Movement, the Free Speech Movement, the Antiwar Movement, the Feminist Movement. John C. McDowell (2016) suggests in Identity Politics in George Lucas' Star Wars a counterculture "context for [Star Wars] to address issues of racial discrimination, prejudice and violence in subtle ways using non-human characters to depict otherness." However, the racist overtones in the Empire remains subtext and even in that, is spelled out in some of the expanded universe novels far better than Lucas puts into his films. Others could read into the use of aliens, but the simpler explanation--that aliens make for a more... fantastic set of visuals--fits without reading subtext where there really doesn't seem to be any. Basically, Lucas' subtlety is really just an inference with little evidence. Charlie Jane Anders, writing for io9, says

Lucas started out as a member of the counter-culture, part of a group of young film-makers who were challenging the status quo in Hollywood, alongside Francis Ford Coppola. He was very much a product of the 1960s counter-culture: His earliest work was Look at Life, an "abstract montage" of still black-and-white images that explore the political tensions of the 1960s. He was one of the cameramen in Gimme Shelter, which was viewed as a West-Coast alternative to Woodstock.

Unfortunately, at some point in the past couple decades (probably when one of my boxes of large books fell (I assume) off the truck when I briefly ventured out of California to try living elsewhere back in 2000), I lost my book about Lucas. This one:

So, I can't confirm the details there. And, Anders' lack of detail (which isn't necessarily problematic in a piece like that io9 one) suggests assumptions that don't necessarily mean as much as Anders is suggesting. That is, Lucas making an abstract film with black-and-white images about political tension could just be the simplest thing to make for him at the time, and there was political tension prevalent on college campuses when he was there, so regardless of the side he was on, it seems reasonable that such themes would find their way into his work. THX 1138, for example, involves a dystopian future. American Graffiti's setting puts it ahead of the counterculture, and it spends its time in a specific time and place, not necessarily drawing on political ideas... Although to to be fair, it has been awhile since I've watched the film, so maybe it was more political than I recall. And Star Wars comes along after Vietnam, after the protest-filled 60s, after violence broke out in numerous American cities (and cities abroad) because of political upheaval and marginalized groups demanding attention. So yeah, it focuses in on a rebellion. But, the Empire, as exemplified by Darth Vader, is a clear evil. The opening sequence has Stormtroopers gunning down soldiers we haven't even met yet, endangering our viewpoint droids and the young princess. Real political subtext is lacking. It's not absent. But it takes a backseat to an adventure in space.

Except, it is there, and I had all three movies in my head by the time I was seven. Empire: Bad. Rebellion: Good. Meanwhile, I'm attending weekly church service and going to private school, and in addition to all their strict rules, I am being told the world is going to end soon. So, there was a nice little thematic soup of rebellion just asking for me to be a troublemaker. And, in that private school, we had corporal punishment, and that kind of thing just made me want to not get caught, it didn't make me want to stop being a troublemaker.

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.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

i hope no one ever tells her we were bad guys

So, for future readers, the Winter Olympics are going on this week and next. Among the competitors is Adam Rippon, a male figure skater from the US who is openly gay. On a post (which I cannot find the specific one I saw yesterday) on Facebook by some conservative page I follow, maybe Fox News, maybe the page that used to be called People Against Obama's Liberal Adgenda [sic], about Rippon, some immediate (and expected) comments were all about how his sexuality is irrelevant, just do your sport and leave politics out of it... Which 1) of course they don't care when it's not about them, or doesn't agree with them. Like they--and I will lump them all together under one "they" for the moment, because fuck them--tell celebrities not to talk about politics, just do their acting job, dance like the trained monkeys they are and shut up about anything else, because actors, as we all know, are not people, are not voters with the same rights as everyone else, and of course, they would never take advantage of a soap box if they had one. But, let's narrow this down to the gay thing. Because, so many unfortunately uninformed individuals (in addition to all the bigoted assholes) don't understand why it matters that an Olympic athlete (or a celebrity) might be allowed to be openly gay and might be celebrated for it, and it might actually matter to a whole hell of a lot of people. Because, they--who are mostly white, mostly heteronormative, cisgender (and they think they're mostly male, even though statistically, that just isn't true)--don't see themselves represented in a person like Rippon, they don't want to hear about fundamental parts of who he is. They just want him to be random athlete they can ignore outright if they want.

But, they see themselves represented all over the place, in so many athletes for so many years, in most actors, and especially "popular" actors. They are so readily and regularly represented that they 1) don't even realize how nice it could be to be represented and 2) are only just starting to realize how much it might be a problem to not be represented. But, that is exactly the thing that should make them capable of empathizing with all the marginalized people who have not seen themselves represented in popular media. Instead, they get angry and blame the other. A young child, perhaps a race other than white, perhaps homosexual, or gender non-conforming--not that they would accept that such a thing exists naturally--watching Olympic coverage that shows them nothing but white, heteronormative athletes, feels less than. But, they see someone like them, and they can imagine how great the things they might be capable of themselves.

Nicole Martins of Indiana University explains (in a Huffington Post piece by Sara Boboltz and Kimberly Yam):

There's this body of research and a term known as 'symbolic annihilation,' which is the idea that if you don't see people like you in the media you consume, you [infer that you] must somehow be unimportant.

That term was coined by researchers George Gerbner and LArry Gross back in 1976. They explain: "Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation."

Rippon is one athlete on a team of 244 athletes, nevermind the athletes from all of the other countries. But, the media dares talk about what makes him unique and the normative majority gets offended. Gets scared. Because, things outside the norm being accepted means they don't have all the power anymore. They imagine a zero sum game, one party rises, the other must diminish. But, it doesn't have to work that way.

Now, if you keep up with this blog, or just clicked the link from Twitter or Facebook, you're probably wondering what the hell any of this has to do with the film Savannah Smiles. That's the thing, though. Savannah Smiles is all about two gay men raising a kid.

Something that never occurred to me when I was a kid--younger than Savannah when the film came out mind you--was how much Boots and Alvie are coded gay. Or at least Boots is; Alvie actively involves himself with a woman during the film. But, Alvie's efforts--his "powerful need"--could simply be him trying to conform. Boots, on the other hand, actively jumps into being parent to Savannah, he buys groceries and toys, he prepares meals, he wears an apron. He fills the role of typical housewife. Also, Donovan Scott, who plays Boots, is gay in real life.

I was thinking about the gay coding already and, as I usually do, googling everything, I looked it up, and I find Timothy Rawles, writing for SDGLN (San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, by the way). "The film 'Savannah Smiles' (1982) inspired me as a young gay tween," he writes, "because in it, two men... take on the role of dads by themselves after accidentally kidnapping the [titular] little girl". Boots and Alvie both looking after the girl in their charge does not inherently make them 1) a couple or 2) gay. But, Rawles writes,

I remember watching it, and even though the two men aren't portrayed as a gay couple, I fantasizes that they were because they had such great chemistry.

They do have chemistry. Also, the film never tells us how they became friends, became partners in crime. Upon learning that Scott was gay in real life Rawles eventually reached out to the actor, thinking "perhaps there was a gay undertone after all and the film was actually more progressive than I thought". Scott "didn't necessarily agree" with Rawles assertion. Rawles explains:

I asked Scott since he is a gay man if he infused a gay nuance to Boots when he performed the role. [Scott replied] "No, it was not in the writing and I never felt the need to make it feel otherwise."

Except, that doesn't actually answer Rawle's question or he assertion, and definitely doesn't cover his inference. As Rawles explains,

The relationship between the two men feels like a marriage. Alvie is the crotchety older man who has no pateince for the antics of a cutesy six-year-old, while Bootsie [Rawles uses Savannah's nickname for Boots] takes on the motherly role providing toys, freshly cooked meals and sympathy.

While I found Rawles article last night, I am only reading it now as I write, so the specific echoes of what I already said about Boots above is interesting. Rawles continues:

With this type of set-up, it seemed the film was a subtle liberal Hollywood nod to the LGBT community in the conservative era that was dominated by the GOP.

Further down, Rawles asks Boots to conjecture "why I would feel the way I did." Scott replied:

Family is family, held together by love... Where there is no love there is no family. Sacrifice is one of the definitions of love and an important one. We must all compromise in order for love to grow[. W]e do not want to change the person we fell in love with but we want to allow ourselves to change as our love grows.

Savannah Smiles is about love, of course. Both Boots and Alvie love the girl by the end of the film. And, while Savannah's father seems more concerned with his senatorial race than his own daughter's abduction, her mother is distraught and, in the end, her "goodbye" to her husband seems quite final, like she is picking their daughter over their marriage, damn the consequences to his career. Regardless of any gay coding in the relationship between Alvie and Boots, there is love between them, and between them and Savannah. In the end, they lose Savannah, and they lose their freedom. And, while we barely get to know them before they start interacting with Savannah, I think it is safe to say the two men are more alive with her around. Mark Miller, who plays Alvie and wrote the script, wrote the part of Savannah for his own daughter (also named Savannah). So, on the one hand, you've got a father infusing a script with love for his daughter, on the other hand, you've got an openly (if not loudly) homosexual man taking on the role of a, yes, motherly criminal who comes alive around a temporary surrogate daughter. Maybe it is just that the love feels more real here and so, whether Scott means to come across as gay or not, he does because, let's face it, gay people are better at expressing love... Be offended if you like.

Scott explains his confidence regarding his sexuality to Rawles:

There are plenty of people I would like to spend time with and don't need to waste my time on someone who doesn't get me... Some people call that an ego, I call it healthy living. Know who you are and make no excuses to anyone, gay straight or otherwise.

The same can be applied in personal circles as well as one's interactions with celebrities or athletes, to bring this back around to Adam Rippon. If you don't like him, that's one thing (whether or not it comes from you being a bigot or not). But, feeling the need to jump into the comments section to proclaim that sexuality doesn't matter to you... Well, you're disproving your own point by taking the time. And, maybe it's just not about you. Your need to express your negative impression just doesn't matter as much as those who might be affected positively by the mere existence of an openly gay athlete like Rippon, or a coded gay couple like Boots and Alvie.

(For the record, the same applies to my own negativity about you. But, to paraphrase something I have said more than a few times, this is my blog, and you can click away from it any time. Hell, you can comment below and say whatever you like.)

One final note before I head off for today. I've written about the way fiction will use weddings, even tangentially, to reify societal norms in an otherwise subversive script. Well, at the end of this movie, Boots and Alvie use the cover of a wedding to make a run for the mountains. Structurally, the film could have ended sooner, as I pointed out yesterday; if Boots and Alvie were going to get arrested anyway, they could have been captured at the house. Instead, a wedding. Instead, a honeymoon, as they leave the wedding only to head off to Bridal Veil Falls. It's no Niagara, but positioned after the wedding, and after the two men playing at domesticity with their surrogate daughter, it's a honeymoon destination.

And it doesn't really matter if Miller writing or Scott acting meant for Alvie and Boots to come across as a loving couple. The audience's inference matters more than the creators implication.

If you imagine Boots and Alvie are a gay couple and it makes you feel good, because you're gay and there aren't enough gay couples on the big (or small) screen, imagine away. Feel good. You're not hurting anybody.

This week, Black Panther will be in theaters. Writing about just how big a thing that movie can be in terms of minority representation for Time, Jamil Smith explains:

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. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn't happen, we are all the poorer for it.

Are Alvie and Boots a gay couple? No, they're probably not meant that way. But, if they were, if there was a mainstream film in 1982 with a gay couple at its center, how much better off might we all be for it? If we had a big screen version of Black Panther back then... If we had more female-led films...

The idea that more and different characters getting stories takes anything away from the world is ridiculous to me. They can only add something. And, anyone who can't handle it needs to actually watch more movies, experience more stories about people that are not like them. Grow some empathy and get over yourself.